Searle’s Chinese Room Argument always seemed dumb to me:
The Chinese Room Argument contains two fallacies:
First, it conflates a composition of elements with a single element:
Is a plank of wood a ship? No, but a whole bunch of them are. You can’t say that you can never sail across the ocean because a wood plank isn’t a ship.
No, the message operator in the room doesn’t speak Chinese. But the room *as a system* does speak it. Are the individual neurons in your brain conscious? No, they are simple machines. But you as a whole are sentient. Likewise, software may be sentient even if individual lines of code are not.
The second fallacy is a trick: it compares a one-rule operator to 100 billion neurons in your brain. The hidden argument is that a simple rule engine cannot compete with a 100-billion rule network. The hidden implication is that a “simple” system can never do the job of an ultra-complex one like the brain. But no one claims that sentience can be replicated with a simple system. Perhaps 100 billion neurons are the minimum needed for intelligence, and that’s fine. In fact, GPT-4 has about the same number of neurons as the human brain.
When most people think of AI as a threat, they imagine a malevolent AI. That isn’t very likely, so they dismiss the threat entirely.
But that’s not the danger of AI. The real danger is super-competence in the wrong hands. This is a difficult idea to convey because “super-competence” does not exist yet, so it takes some imagination to consider the risks it could bring.
I say “super-competence” instead of “super-intelligence” because we don’t have a firm grasp of intelligence, much less “super”-intelligence in a non-human context. “Super-competent AI” is just software with a versatile utility function, without the baggage of self-awareness, the question of a soul, etc. Everyone accepts that computers are super-competent in some narrow contexts. They can solve math problems much faster, search large amounts of data, land rockets on a dime, etc. These are all forms of narrow competence — algorithms that are good at very specific things.
Of course, with ChatGPT, we have an example of competence in a broader context. GPT4 can solve problems in almost any domain of human knowledge, even if not very well (yet).
I predict that within the next 10 years, we will have super-competent AI (which could be augmented humans) that can provide superhuman results in a wide array of problems. It doesn’t have to be a chatbot. It might be an oil rig builder that can handle everything from finding oil to building a pipeline. The initial domain doesn’t matter because once we figure out how to make more adaptive AI tools, they will spread to every human endeavor. Most likely, it will be an informational tool of some kind (like a kids’ cartoon generator) because language models have already proven superhuman talents in this field.
Once we have super-competent tools, one of three disasters will inevitably happen:
1: A do-gooder will tell an AI algorithm something dumb like “design an airborne viral cancer cure” and the AI will decide that the most effective way to cure cancer is to kill the hosts.
2: Some malicious human will use AI towards malicious ends. The most likely way this will happen is that the world gets so scared of AI that it bans all research, and that only parties without regard for the law or AI safety continue the work.
3: An AI really will develop a mind of its own and decide that the carbon in our bodies would be more useful in building more compute nodes. I consider this the least likely, or rather likely to be a risk long after the first two risks.
So far as I can see, the only way I could be wrong is if (1) super-competent AI is not possible, either because technological progress stalls, or because human intelligence is at the apex of what is possible or (2) we find a way to align software with human values, such as by integrating super-intelligence into everyone’s minds or perhaps creating an AI overlord with human values that can stop any possible disasters.
My confidence in the timeline of AI progress comes from both the state of AI research and the nature of information systems (such as human civilization), which tend to produce more complex iterations in ever shorter cycles. I do not think “no one will do anything dumb or malicious” is a realistic option because given 8 billion+ humans, all of whom will eventually have access to these tools, it is a certainty that some will be smart enough to be dangerous, but too dumb or malicious to know better.
So what’s the solution? As I mentioned, banning AI will only make a disaster more likely. I think the first step is to develop a consensus about AI’s existential risks, rather than, for example, worry that someone will trick ChatGPT into saying something racist. The second step is to fund AI safety research on a scale proportional to AI research itself. The third step is to develop future-oriented safety protocols. (AI safety protocols exist, but they are backward-looking and completely inadequate for the scale of the problem.)
See Insights and Ads2Blake Williams and Fred Smiszek Jr.
Bitcoin is decentralized, censorship-resistant money. It is an immutable bearer instrument, meaning that possession of the key entitles the holder to dispose of the value of Bitcoin, and no entity in the world can do anything to stop that. It is an asset, not a security, meaning that it does not represent debt, derivative, or equity in any enterprise. It has no shareholders, no corporation, organization, CEO, nor any other kind of administrator who can make unilateral changes to it. It has an entirely fair distribution, which is to say that it was worthless for years before it had any value, and no one involved in the project had any special bitcoin allocation. It has always been the top cryptocurrency by monetary usage, market capitalization, and ecosystem adoption. It requires no special hardware or permission to run, and anyone with a regular computer can run a full Bitcoin node.
No other leading crypto asset meets any of these criteria, much less all of them. None of the 20,000 other crypto projects meet all of these criteria. The vast majority of “crypto” projects are scams, created solely to enrich the founders. The few well-meaning projects are securities promising a future payoff, but few practical applications today. No other project can be said to already serve millions of users’ needs for non-speculative purposes. The “crypto” space is dominated by scammers, grifters, and ignorant sycophants who believe their lies because they’ve been sucked into a shitcoin cult and because they can only profit as long as they keep finding other suckers. The actual founders of these projects typically put all their profits back into Bitcoin or fiat as soon as they can get away with it. The sooner you understand that Bitcoin is unique, the sooner you can get away from pump and dump schemes and put your wealth into the asset most likely to safeguard your wealth. Bitcoin is not “crypto.”
Below, I will break down the ways in which Bitcoin is unique, critique some of its competitors, and then answer some of the criticisms made against Bitcoin.
The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that’s required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust. Banks must be trusted to hold our money and transfer it electronically, but they lend it out in waves of credit bubbles with barely a fraction in reserve.
Unlike the vast majority of “cryptos,” Bitcoin solves a real problem, the problem of modern civilization: fiat money. Why is fiat a problem? The US government and our economy are being kept afloat by a giant “everything bubble” that assumes that the world will keep buying dollar-denominated debt. When the bubble pops, the dollar will collapse, and the world will need a new reserve currency. In other countries, the bubble has money has already collapsed, and Bitcoin is already a lifeline. The corrupting influence of inflationary fiat money has infiltrated and ruined every aspect of society – I highly recommend Saifedean Ammous’ book “The Bitcoin Standard” for the gory details.
Unlike shitcoins, Bitcoin solves a real problem affecting billions of people – and that is why it has the most real-world adoption.
Why promote maximalism now?
Warren Buffett: Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.
The crypto-bear market is upon us. Many scams and vaporware projects have failed, and many people are getting turned off crypto assets entirely, which is why it’s a good time to remind you that Bitcoin is not crypto. Speculators who are here for a quick buck will come and go, but Bitcoin is here for the long run. Now is the time to highlight this fact.
Bitcoin is not a security The U.S. Supreme Court’s Howey test: “an investment contract exists if there is an “investment of money in a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits to be derived from the efforts of others.” Nearly every other crypto asset is a security: it’s a project run by a centralized team, with the goal of making a profit. Token buyers are investors, hoping to earn a reward from the work of that team.
When you buy a crypto token, you’re betting that the team that runs the token will beat 10,000 other projects and make you a profit. Often, they are backed by millions in venture capital, which they use to sell their investment. Bitcoin is different. There is no one in charge, no “Bitcoin CEO” or marketing team, no venture capital, and no securities token. Bitcoin is truly decentralized, and all decisions are made by a community consensus process. We can see evidence of centralization the fact that other networks can simply reboot their blockchain when they have a bug, or the fact that Ethereum’s supply schedule changes more often than the weather. There will only ever 21 million Bitcoin, and there is no group or charismatic leader in charge who can ever change that.
Bitcoin has no demagogues
Cory Klippsten, the CEO of Swan Bitcoin:
“Why is Bitcoin not a Ponzi scheme? The big difference is that there is no entity or group of people that control Bitcoin who are marketing Bitcoin to be able to dump it. If anything, most Bitcoiners that promote Bitcoin are just buying and holding as much as possible — and people who love it the most are the people who never sell.”
Bitcoin has a fair distribution
Bitcoin is the only blockchain that has a credible claim to a truly fair distribution: * No premine (Satoshi didn’t grant himself any coins) Satoshi gave a 2 month heads up before launching the network (no sudden release and no mining before release) * Coins had no value for 1.5 years so they circulated freely (it’s not even possible for an altcoin to replicate this) * Satoshi never cashed out (unlike every altcoin founder in history and I bet it stays that way for eternity)
By contrast, Ethereum launched with 12 million ETH for the developers, and 60 million ETH for sale as an “initial coin offering” during the presale.
Bitcoin is #1
All other cryptocurrencies only exist because of Bitcoin: Bitcoin enabled an instant global payment network and final settlement for other digital assets. If you own another cryptocurrency, there is a good chance you bought it with Bitcoin. If you hear about any other project, it’s because of a marketer/promoter, whereas Bitcoin’s growth is organic.
Whether it’s a private entity or the government doing the censorship, it’s still wrong and harmful, and for some of the same reasons.
Government censorship is far worse than private censorship because it eliminates your ability to speak on any platform.
But the value of free speech is a universal principle, not a just political one. Human progress requires open debate. This is one of the key principles of the Enlightenment responsible for the surge of progress and human development in the modern era. Toleration of disagreement is essential for the pursuit of knowledge.
A platform committed to the principle of free speech has a moral obligation to maximize the speech it tolerates, even if that speech is wrong or repulsive to the operators. That doesn’t mean that platforms must allow disruptive or illegal speech. All platforms must have some policies to restrict disruptive behavior like spam or illegal behavior like crime.
A platform is not the same as a social community. A community is a group of people committed to common values or interests. Communities often need to restrict speech to facilitate their mission. For example, a marine biology community can’t have outsiders promoting day trading schemes. A social networking platform is a host of communities and has a moral obligation to maximize the range of speech it tolerates.
One of the primary problems with social media censorship is confusion about the concept of “harm.” Illegal behavior like threats of violence are disruptive of speech and should be banned by social platforms. However, the intellectual elite no longer differentiates between physical harm and harm to emotions, or often simply wrong ideas. If harming emotions is prohibited, then all speech is vulnerable, since we cannot be responsible for other people’s feelings. We pay lip service to freedom of speech, but we no longer understand what it is. The Enlightenment has drawn to a sad end.
In the last three years, we’ve seen censorship of speech using the wrong pronouns, censorship of speech that contradicted government health advice, censorship of speech that represented government health advice at one time, but was changed later, censorship of speech because people of the wrong nationality commented on another country’s politics, and censorship of speech for no reason at all, because the AI trying to censor wrongthink is easily confused. On the other hand, when someone on Facebook threatened to literally murder me, Facebook told me it reviewed the message and found nothing wrong, demonstrating where its priorities lie. Too bad he did not misgender me or told me not to take a vac**ne, or call me a politically-incorrect slur.
In short, censorship has been weaponized to push the political agenda of the group in power, and the elites are seeing just how far they can push thoughtcrime.
By the way, even as the elites trust our ability to tell truth from falsehood less and less, the intellectual and material tools we have to evaluate the truth for ourselves are better than ever. We have the intellectual tools of the scientific method, statistical science, and empirical knowledge of the world. These tools would be awe-inspiring to the natural philosophers of the past. We have the material tools of the Internet, engineering, and mass-produced scientific instruments making the truth more accessible than any time in history. Yet our intellectual elites have responded to the mass-accessibility of truth with an unprecedented wave of censorship and intolerance.
The Intercept story has more holes than swiss cheese, but I want to rebut the central thesis of the article. Is inflation bad? Spoiler: the worst aspect of inflation is not rising prices or eroding savings, but the censorship of price signals required for a thriving economy.
Demand-Pull Theory Doesn’t Explain Inflation
The unstated theory of the author and the mainstream economic model that guides the monetary policy of the world’s central banks is Keynes’ model of Demand-Pull Inflation. The theory goes like this: when aggregate demand exceeds the value of aggregate supply, producers raise prices. In response, governments can raise interest rates to reduce demand, slow economic growth, and end inflation. Problem solved!
If the master planners at the Federal Reserve simply need to pull a few levers to fix the economy, why has the global economy had a series of boom-bust cycles ever since the Fed was founded in 1913? The usual excuse is that the government simply hasn’t imposed enough regulations to stop the pesky capitalists from screwing up their central planning.
The Austrian economic school provides a comprehensive response to Keynes’ economics. Say’s law (Jean-Baptiste Say, 1803) provides a simple refutation of Keyne’s demand-pull theory. In order for someone to buy goods, he must first produce something of value to obtain the money needed to pay for those goods. Production is the source of all economic growth, not consumption. Economic growth is an increase in supply, not an increase in consumers demanding more. To consume the product of others’ labor, you must first produce something they find valuable. Government edict can change what goods are produced, but it cannot magically command new workers, factories, and materials into existence.
Since Covid 19 began, the M2 supply has jumped from $15 trillion to almost 20 trillion dollars. Quick quiz: if the same amount of economic activity is served by 40% more dollar bills, what will happen to prices? It’s not a question of if but when.
The question of why the government had to print so much money is a long and shameful tale, but the ultimate result is inevitable: massive inflation.
Inflation is much worse than the official numbers suggest:
Second, the United States has been able to hide away most inflation, mostly by exporting dollars as a global reserve currency.
Third, the official deficit numbers are misleading because much government spending (like government-backed student loans and mortgages and quantitative easing) doesn’t end up on the books.
What we are seeing now is not the beginning of a period of higher inflation, but an unprecedented expansion of the money supply causing the Fed to lose control of the narrative and have to admit it in official indexes.
So Why Is Inflation Bad?
The problem is not that prices are going up. If prices merely increased by some steady amount each year, we could adapt to them, just as employees expect a 3-4% base salary raise every year to match inflation. Likewise, producers and lenders would have no problem adapting to a universal increase in the price level.
The problem with inflation is that it’s not a universal increase in price. Inflation is what happens when politicians print new money to hand it out to their constituents instead of raising taxes. Raising taxes is hard but running printing presses (physical or digital) is easy.
To understand why inflation is harmful, we need to understand what prices are: prices are signals about which activities are valuable to people. When the price of a good goes up, producers direct more resources into the production of that good. When the wage of a job goes up, more workers are directed to that industry. This “invisible hand” of the market continually optimizes human activity to direct human effort to the most valuable activity.
The main evil of inflation is that it corrupts this information flow. Inflation begins when governments give new money to favored groups. The recipients of new money spend it at the current price, whereas the downstream users of that money spend it at a higher, inflated price. Instead of prices signaling which activities are socially valuable, they signal activities supported by the government’s printing presses. Inflation corrupts the economic harmony that directs resources to their most valuable use.
If you remember one thing, it should be this:
“Fiat” is another word for “decree” or “edict.” It’s called “fiat money” because governments force people to use their money by decree. Through inflation, fiat money forces people to allocate their lives to the causes the government’s money benefits instead of those they would voluntarily choose for themselves.
Inflation Is A Hidden Tax
All taxes are signals which force people to produce goods they would not voluntarily produce. But taxes are different from inflation in that both the tax burden and the recipients of tax income are generally auditable by the electorate. Inflation is a hidden tax that subtly changes the incentives throughout an economy to erode its ability to produce wealth.
Because it’s hidden, inflation is highly addictive to the political system. Government programs depend on printing money to a far larger extent than official deficit numbers suggest. Even if there was suddenly a broad awareness of the harms of inflation and a political movement to curtail it, moving to a sound money system absent a complete collapse of the dollar regime would still be outside the realm of possibility.
Inflation Wrecks The Structure Of Production
Why is the economy suffering from shortages of seemingly everything? It has nothing to do with a “chip shortage,” or the Suez canal blockage, or just-in-time manufacturing. These are only the symptoms. The root cause of the “everything shortage” is the government’s manipulation of the money supply.
One of the main disagreements of the Austrian school with Keynesian economics is the emphasis it places on the structure of capital. Capital is not a monolithic blob of “aggregate supply”, but a hierarchy of lower and higher-order goods. In order to produce consumer goods, capital must be employed. To make your Venti Frappuccino (first-order good), a barista uses an espresso grinder (second-order good). The grinder requires steel and microchips (third-order goods).
When the government created new money for the stimulus programs, that money first went to consumers, who voted with their wallets to shift the structure of capital from the production of higher-order (production) goods to lower-order (consumption) goods. Inflation robbed producers with low time preference and redistributed the loot to consumers with a higher time preference. The shortages were a result of inflation eating the “seed corn” of capital needed to maintain and expand production.
So what should happen when an external shock (such as pandemics and lockdown policies) constrains production and changes demand patterns? The economy needs to re-structure to rebuild the structure of production to reflect the new reality. Uncertainty causes consumers to save more, which frees up higher-order capital to shift to new demand trends. Capital can focus on producing PPE, webcams, home exercise equipment, and consumer groceries rather than restaurant supplies, office buildings, airliners, etc.
The inflation-powered stimulus packages attempted to “freeze” the economy in pre-pandemic spending levels and thus crippled the adjustment to the new reality. The rest was inevitable.
The Myth of Idle Capital
President Biden claims that the “Build Back Better” stimulus package will reverse inflation by “reducing bottlenecks” in the economy. This thinking is straight of out Keynes’s General Theory (1936). Keynes believed that government spending is needed to put “idle” resources to work and stimulus the economy.
William H. Hutt refuted this idea in “The Theory of Idle Resources” (1939). Politicians cannot create new capital and labor. They can only force people to do the government’s bidding rather than what individuals believe is in their best interest. If some capital is idle, it’s because it currently provides no economic value to people. “Build Back Better” is just the latest version of the belief that the government’s central planning is more efficient than the price mechanism of the free market. Though Mises, Hutt, and many others refuted these ideas in the 1930s, the backdoor of fiat money allows politicians to try the same failed policies without consequences.
Does Inflation Help The Poor?
The Intercept claims that inflation is good for the poor because it will make debts easier to pay off. Supposedly, rich lenders will suffer while the poor are granted a reprieve.
Do you really believe the elites suffer more under any economic policy? While banks may lose some money, they are also the first recipients of new government money!
* A far larger percentage of poor households’ income is used for basic needs.
* The wealthy get most of their income from inflation-protected assets like real estate, business interest, and stocks.
* The prices of basic goods increase faster than luxury goods.
* Families with low incomes will be pushed into poverty, while the middle and upper classes can cut down on luxuries.
* Debt is a wealth-maximizing strategy for the wealthy, while it’s a survival strategy for the poor.
* Although existing mortgages and student debt will depreciate, interest rates on new debt will go up dramatically!
Though the very idea that inflation helps the poor is absurd on its face, it’s not the fundamental error of the article. The central problem is the idea that high inflation is just the price we pay for economic growth. If you have understood the above description of inflation, you should understand that this is another way of saying that government central planning of the economy is more efficient than the market. If you believe that, look up the thriving economies of the USSR, North Korea, Venezuela, or Cuba.
Why aren’t all economists rich? Some are. Economics is the most common degree amongst the world’s top 100 billionaires. Some famous economists such as David Ricardo and John Maynard Keynes were very wealthy indeed. However, for the most part, economists will give you a list of excuses why understanding economics won’t make you rich.
They are wrong.
How do I know this? I used my understanding of economics to become wealthy.
I won’t go into the (lame) excuses economists give. Instead, I will tell you how I used my understanding of economics to build my fortune.
Some of these topics could fill a book, so I’ll just cover the basics. I’ve already written articles about most of these topics.
The returns from re-investing profits from an investment are the single most important principle of personal finance.
This taught me a few things: (1) maximize my savings rate (2) invest while I’m young (3) time in the market is more important than timing the market.
Efficient market hypothesis:
The efficient market hypothesis (introduced by F.A. Hayek in 1945) is the idea that prices incorporate all public information about markets. This means that “buy low, sell high” is impossible using only public information.
This taught me:
(1) Technical analysis/day trading is stupid
(2) Don’t pick stocks (unless you can dedicate your career to it). Invest in broad-based index funds
(3) Keep costs low. You can’t consistently generate superior returns, but you can maximize the return from the market by buying cheap ETF’s.
(4) Maximize time in the market because you can’t time the market.
(5) Consistent alpha generation requires non-public information
(6) Don’t trust your money to an “expert.” They are unlikely to do any better than random.
Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT):
The Austrian business cycle theory (Ludwig von Mises, Theory of Money and Credit, 1912) explains how expansionary monetary policy leads to unsustainable investments (the boom), followed by a necessary correction (the bust). This has huge policy implications, but it’s also important for investors.
It taught me:
(1) Bull markets are headed for a correction when investments become unsustainable.
Signs of an upcoming correction may be:
high P/E ratios,
dumb projects getting funded, etc.
(2) Credit expansion (and associated inflationary policies) cannot be reversed. Don’t bet on fixed-return investments.
(3) All fiat regimes end lead to hyperinflation — so protect your assets from inflation. Stocks, precious metals, and Bitcoin provide protection from hyperinflation.
Modern portfolio theory (MPT):
MPT ( Harry Markowitz, “Portfolio Selection”, 1952) is a model to understand the relationship between investment risk and performance. Given a set of investment categories with a given risk and rate of return, you can graph all possible allocations of a set of investments on an efficient frontier: a hyperbola that represents a combination of investments that has the least risk for a given level of return.
It taught me:
(1) While you need to take more risks to get superior returns, you can get a free lunch if your risky investments are uncorrelated. Diversify your portfolio with non-correlated assets to maximize returns given a certain level of risk
(2) Lower your risk with a small allocation into safer assets with minimal impact on returns.
The capitalist-entrepreneur organizes capital and labor in new ways to make a profit. More generally, entrepreneurship is the activity of creatively organizing these elements to create value. (Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, 1949)
The reward for entrepreneurship is the profit the entrepreneur collects from the value he generates.
Everyone faces the decision to become a wage worker (employee) or entrepreneur. The upper end of the wages an employee collects is the value he creates for the business. The lower end is whatever another potential employee will offer for the same service — in other words, “what the market will bear.”
What this taught me:
No matter how much value I create for the business, my salary will always be limited to the market rates.
There are two ways to raise one’s income:
1: Redefine your job so that the pool of competitors is more exclusive.
2: Become an entrepreneur, so that your income is limited only by the value you create, not the prevailing wage.
In practice, I have done both in my life.
As an employee:
For example, I started my career as a software engineer. I then became a software architect, technology lead, director of marketing, then Chief Technology Architect. My strategy was guided by two questions:
1: how can I create more profit for the business and thus increase my value and
2: how can I limit the pool of competitors by working in a more exclusive role?
As an entrepreneur:
In contrast to employees, entrepreneurs can collect all the additional value they create (after expenses). Aside from a few exceptional careers (CEO, movie star, athlete, etc), entrepreneurship is the primary way to real wealth.
Ever since I discovered the role of entrepreneurship from the Austrian School of Economics, I’ve strived to engage in entrepreneurship even while I pursued my career. Currently, I do this as Managing Partner of Vellum Capital, a hedge fund specializing in cryptocurrencies.
Last word on Abundance:
Economics is all about the study of scarcity. Human beings have unlimited needs in a world with limited resources. The field of economics studies how to best allocate these limited resources to maximize human satisfaction.
But this focus on scarcity can lead us to miss another important lesson of economics. Value does not exist in nature but human beings. Human beings create value for themselves and others when they re-arrange capital and labor to produce goods and services.
While the elements of nature are finite, the potential value that humans can create is infinite. For example, some sand on the beach can provide momentary value when kids play with it. It can provide more lasting value when it is used to mix concrete for a building, or even more if the silicon is made into solar panels, or even more if the silicon is made into a million-dollar supercomputer. The combinations of labor and capital are infinite, and so is the value that they can create.
Economics is all about managing scarcity, but it teaches that the economy is not a fixed pie. Economic activity creates value rather than distributing it. The universe is full of opportunity, and we need only to develop an entrepreneurial eye for our small part of it, to learn how to profit from it.
In a command line window, run ./adb devices. This is just to check that adb can see your Wahoo device.
Run ./adb pull /data/media/0/exports ~/Desktop/wahoo_exports with the last part being the folder you want to save to. This will export every single ride to your PC. Your deleted ride(s) will be there. Look by the date.
You can now sync the deleted ride. I airdropped the deleted ride to the ELEMNT app. That was enough for it to sync.
Time travel requires the creation of a closed timelike curve (CTC): a closed loop in which spacetime returns to the starting point.
Let’s assume that a CTC is possible (an open question in physics), and it allows a single signal (yes=signal, no=no message) to be sent to a time machine that’s already operating, after which the connection ends. What can be done with this low bandwidth connection?
Say your goal is to win the lottery. You start your chrono-receiver and buy a lottery ticket. If you win, you send a yes. If you don’t get a signal, you increment the lottery number and try again. Even if your chance of winning is 1 in a billion, you will eventually get to the correct number.
What do you do after winning the lottery? Solve the next problem. Anything that is physically possible for you to becomes trivial given enough attempts. You just need to build an Ideal Solution Database (ISD) to keep track of successes and ensure each attempt is unique. You are using the CTC to perform computation on an infinitely powerful computer. You can’t go back to before the time machine was invented (that’s how a CTC works), but you can optimize your action post-creation to achieve any and all outcomes that are physically possible. (If this is confusing, watch the Rick and Morty episode “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat”)
Where does the energy for this process come from? Where does the entropy go? From a thermodynamic perspective, time travel is problematic, whether you want one trip to make sure your parents have that first date, or a quintillion trips to become God-Emperor of Earth.
So this is the basic problem with all time travel in fiction. Even if you don’t set out to create the ISD, the temptation of optimizing any action leads toward the creation of an ISD. As each goal is achieved, the next goal is brought forward in time. The only limitation is the time to record each goal in the ISD, and the process can be used to optimize the ISD too. History compresses into a singularity and the flow of time as we know it ends.
While the time loops may be infinite, the ISD calculations and actions still generate entropy, so the ISD civilization has an expiration date. Assuming the civilization remains in a particular area of space (such as a solar system), it will perform all work possible until reaching heat death. From the perspective of an outside observer, the ISD civilization accelerates to a singularity, then vanishes.
If a CTC is impossible, what’s the point of this speculation? All intelligence tries to approximate a CTC+ISD. When you try to throw a basketball into a hoop, you first create a simple model universe in your mind that simulates the trajectory of the ball, then test the hypothesis by shooting the ball. You repeat the process, using simulation and testing to perfect the ISD in your mind. All intelligence works by running simulations, testing them, then creating a solutions database from the results. Unlike a CTC, each iteration has takes time and uses energy. To minimize this cost of simulation, civilizations are likely to trend to ever more efficient computing, bound only by Landauer limit, the theoretical lower bound on energy consumption.
Currently, we recognize a big difference between simulations (whether in our mind, computer software, or a physical system, such as a wind tunnel) and reality. However, a future civilization which exist entirely as software, and may convert the fabric of reality into computational substrate (aka comptutronium) may not recognize such a distinction. If the Landauer limit is somehow overcome, future civilizations will achieve what is effectively a CTC+ISD.
Today, we are still dealing with lifeforms that are constantly trying to convert the entire biomass of the planet to copies of themselves.
Can you guess what that lifeform is? It’s every single living organism, from the smallest bacterium to us humans. Every organism has evolved over billions of years to optimize the conversion of inorganic matter and other living organisms into copies of itself. The introduction of a new, alien species that dramatically outcompetes other lifeforms in every ecosystem on a purely evolutionary basis would be a quite difficult problem.
To take a small flaw as an example: the “White Claw” invaders in the film can take down top predators – and they can also glide. But flight requires light, hollow bones, whereas brute power to take down large animals and throw military vehicles like matchsticks requires massively strong bones and bulky muscles. The laws of physics constrain all life to specific ecosystems because all life faces all sorts of compromises.
#3 On the proper use of intelligence
In The Tomorrow War, the invaders compete with humans by a non-intelligent (or at least low-intelligence), non-tool using species. Whatever consciousness they have, the White Claws presumably do not adapt strategy or technology to the human responses.
This summer, I’ve been trying to get rid of weeds in my backyard. At first, I tried pulling them by hand, but they grow back. Then I tried an edger, but it does not destroy the roots, so they grow back quickly. Then I tried 30% concentrated vinegar, and it works because it’s absorbed by the roots and kills the plant. While the weeds might eventually adapt to vinegar, the point is that I can change technology much faster than the weeds can evolve new defenses.
Humans have been dealing with invasive species for as long as agriculture has existed. Our key weapon in the fight is our technology. We determine which strategy works and then scale it up. We don’t keep using the same failed methods (small arms fire), like the protagonists of The Tomorrow War.
What should we have done to deal with the White Stripes? Well, wasting resources to firebomb them when they already dominate an ecosystem is stupid. Instead, all initial resources should have been spent to identify a viable defense method, then scale it up. Even within the movie, it only took a day to find a toxin — why did they only think of that in the last gasp of the war? If not a toxin, then what about armored vehicles? Here’s another problematic aspect of big dumb animal invader science fiction: living beings are still made of blood and guts. Physics puts upper limits on density and power so that a tank will always be able to take out a biological being — and do it beyond line of sight.
A small, hidden invader is much more difficult to defend against. A virus, bacterium, or even something mosquito-sized is a much scarier threat than a big dumb animal. Mosquitos have been around for over 200 million years, and their victims still haven’t been able to mount an effective defense.
People are shocked when I tell them that prefer living in a one-bedroom, furniture-free apartment with my wife and two kids, even though I can pay cash for a McMansion or two in the ‘burbs. Why do most people need more space?
Consider my closet: When I decide what to wear to work in the morning, every shirt in my closet is a good option. I’ve gotten rid of anything that for whatever reason is not a viable choice. Most people have filled the majority of their closets with clothes that don’t fit, aren’t stylish, too old, etc. My shirts are dividend into dress, casual, and workout shirts, and I can choose any shirt from each section without a second thought.
By only keeping possessions that continue to add value to my life, I eliminate the physical, financial, and mental drag that comes along with keeping useless possessions. I apply this principle to every aspect of my life:
Toys: The toys that many parents choose for their kids reflect a fear of real life. Their toys represent, a safe, “nerfed” plastic version of adult responsibilities. Kids don’t need fake plastic houses, power tools, cooking appliances, cars, or phones because they don’t need to fake adult responsibilities: they can assume them one at a time. Our daughter got her first sharp knife and her kid-sized broom at three and helps out cleaning, preparing her lunch every day, makes her bed, etc. She acquires adult tools and responsibilities as she becomes physically and mentally able. When she becomes an adult, she will have been doing adult responsibilities and using adult tools for decades. Note: I’m not against toys, just toys which are “nerfed” versions of work that kids are capable of, or providing a plethora toys in an effort to isolate kids in a “play universe” which distracts them from assuming real responsibilities. For example: A doll or construction blocks are productive toys, fake plastic eating utensils are generally not.
Professional projects: Is this project a success story I want to tell about my career? Does this contribute to the goals I set for this quarter? My digital data: I fit my life on a single SSD by using visualization and de-duplication tools to see the entire of my digital life and delete what I no longer need.
Relationships: Do you add value to my life now? If not, why am I spending my time on you?
Furniture: We only keep furniture that improves our lives. Some of our furniture, like our floor-seating dining time, is custom-made to fit our needs. We have no chairs or couch in our home because we decided that our health would be better if we let our bodies do the job of holding us up.
Finances: I can tell you how much assets or debt I have in each account, and how all of my investments are distributed. I avoid unnecessary financial commitments, combine/rollover my investments, and use a single app to visualize my entire financial life over my lifetime.
Daily time: I jealously guard the commitment and habits I make each day. I use five tools to visualize my the locations I visit, the software I use, and the websites I visit.
Television: I don’t watch TV (though I spend too much time on YouTube), but if you do, track and re-evaluate whether you can be doing something more valuable or rewarding with the time you spent on specific shows.
Social media use: I use HabitLab and Apple’s ScreenTime to set limits on how much time I spend on social media sites/apps. Old hobbies: most people have a bunch of junk from abandoned hobbies in their closets. Sell it and focus on what you do now. Books: I sold or gave away all my books and put everything on my Kindle when we moved to China. I have never thought “I wished I kept that book.” Unfortunately, I keep getting new free books – what can I do with used books in Atlanta?
Emotions: We carry emotional baggage in the associations between places, people and situations, and the ingrained emotional reactions they have developed habits around. Separate your rational-evaluative self from your reactive-habitual self and consider whether your emotional responses are productive for the situation you are in.
Insecurities: Over a lifetime, we accumulate fears and insecurities about problems we used to face and inadequacies we used to hold about ourselves. Focus on the person you are becoming, not who you were in the past.
And that’s why a small apartment works for us. An extra room (at this time) would only add unwanted and unnecessary costs and obligations: the cost of higher rent, the cost to clean it, and especially the daily mental overhead of keeping the room neat and organized, etc. To keep up with an entire house is an enormous responsibility. To whatever extent is possible to me, I want to limit every aspect of my life to the things that continue to give me value and lead me to become the person I want to be – not things that reflect who I was in the past.