Software is beating the world ⊗ Visions for Vision Pro ⊗ The philosophy of co-becoming

No.297 — Why the debate about the future of AI needs less Darwin and more Latour ⊗ The part of the brain that controls movement also guides feelings

Software is beating the world ⊗ Visions for Vision Pro ⊗ The philosophy of co-becoming
The Turpan Depression, nestled at the foot of China’s Bogda Mountains, is a strange mix of salt lakes and sand dunes, and is one of the few places in the world that lies below sea level. USGS on Unsplash.

Software is beating the world

In this piece from late last year, Ed Zitron goes medieval on the last few years of the VC industry and specifically a16z and Marc Andreessen. Contrary to many pieces I’ve shared who take aim at the same targets largely focused on the firm’s philosophy and horrible protégés, Zitron also does it with lots of numbers about how (most) Silicon Valley VCs have changed over the past decade+ and the rot it has brought to the industry. He concentrates more on the process of what they invest in, at which stage, and why. Fun read if you feel the same, but also informative in between the zingers.

I’m sharing the piece for two other reasons. First the vision Zitron presents. He’s not advocating going scorched earth on the whole VC class, rather he argues that “a better tech industry would be one where the majority of capital stays in the seed and early-stage parts of the ecosystem, taking risks on interesting companies to get them off the ground with the understanding that any further financing will be based on actual, real profitability and would have to involve a road to long-term sustainability.” He also talks a lot about investing in youth instead of “shoving more money into established founders.” I’d add diversity to this necessary change.

Second, we should be considering not only the end state of other business incentives, other futures, but also what’s otherwise missed. “What companies didn’t get built because most of the money flowed to the top? What great ideas didn’t happen, or will happen much later, because billions of dollars got pumped into cryptocurrency or vaguely-described ‘AI’ products? How many functional businesses didn’t scale because being profitable isn’t that attractive to venture capitalists? These are unanswerable questions, but ones that I think about a lot.”

Andreessen’s nihilism and the tech industry’s tendency to follow meant that instead of using software to elevate labor and better society while making money, venture capital incentivized companies that could spit out big, stupid numbers, to hell with the human and financial costs. […]

As Breland notes, e/acc is intellectually hollow, and I’d argue it’s also inherently childish. These people aren’t complaining about “decels”; they’re complaining that resources, governments, and society itself will not move every roadblock and ethical concern out of the way so that Daddy Venture can make another billion dollars. […]

Over the last 14 years, venture capital made the tech industry dependent on equity fundraising, then redefined words like “startup” and “disruption” to lionize market dominance through the nakedly unfair competitive advantage of not having to build a business that makes a profit. […]

Real techno-optimists — people actually interested in a better tech industry — should campaign for a venture capital industry that doesn’t sit on its cash and focuses it on funding new ideas and new founders.

More → Molly White ravages the book of another a16zist. Chris Dixon’s Read Write Own. “And I mean ‘sell’ quite literally: the book is peppered with glowing references to companies a16z has backed, but is completely devoid of any disclosures. … This is a theme throughout the book: Dixon rarely engages with any criticism of blockchains, though he periodically acknowledges that there is a lot of it.”

Visions for Vision Pro

There are various critiques of what Apple’s Vision Pro proposes or points us towards, one of them being the fear of being enclosed not only in huge goggles but also further into the clutches of tech. I get it, but I also think part of that fear is based on the look of the current hardware and impressions that a new from factor will be all or nothing and you’ll have to wear glasses in X number of years. I think that, first, those glasses will shrink quickly and remove that physical and metaphorical fear of being enclosed. And second, that it will be just one more form factor. Smartphones are ubiquitous, but they didn’t replace laptops, neither will these headsets.

There’s also the fear of getting stuck ever further in Apple’s ecosystem and of their apps and services becoming a proprietary layer on reality. It’s certainly a risk but Europe, for one, is curtailing some of Apple’s walls with recent legislation. There are perhaps fears that this layer will replace some city information and become the privy of people who can afford devices and data, but cities can be led to informed decisions, social norms can evolve in better directions.

Basically, I’m not defending the device, I’m saying that treating them as just another step towards a dystopia and encouraging people to ignore them, or just laughing at early tests, doesn’t make for a different future, it just clears the way. Specific tech is not predetermined, but people will keep coming up with stuff. Engaging with projects like this and working for appropriate barriers has a better chance of working.

To get a good idea of what the potential of these face screens might be, I suggest watching Marques Brownlee’s Apple Vision Pro Review: Tomorrow's Ideas... Today's Tech! and Casey Neistat’s romp around NYC and the thing no one will say about Apple Vision Pro.

The philosophy of co-becoming

The entanglement of everything and the need for us to develop a much better grasp of these connections across systems and away from human-centrism has been a recurring theme here and elsewhere. The concept of gongsheng, connected to Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, which derives from the biological concept of symbiosis, was explored in a recent symposium hosted by Berggruen Institute China at Peking University. It highlighted the reality of interdependence and aims to create a philosophy of co-becoming that questions the validity of individual beings as self-contained and autonomous entities.

In her introduction, BI China’s Director Bing Song looked for a parallel in the west and settled on a concept by Alain Caillé. “‘Convivialism,’ Song writes, ‘proclaims that relationality and sociality are the essence of humanity and human society.’ Indeed, the subtitle of the movement’s manifesto is: ‘A declaration of interdependence.’ Its stated aim is to dismantle what it calls the illusive ‘neoliberal’ ideology of the independent individual as master of the human and natural domain.” The author then takes Illich’s writing on convivialism to further connect the two visions.

He defined conviviality as “autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment. … I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value.” […]

He spoke of “iatrogenic illness” — illness caused by the “bureaucracy” of physicians who abandoned the ancient idea of health as “balance” within the environment in which a person lived. Such a healthy balance could not be achieved, he argued, in an unhealthy environment poisoned by untamed industrial growth. […]

The warming biosphere is making it intolerable to think of industrial growth as progress; now it appears to us as aggression against the human condition.

§ Why the debate about the future of AI needs less Darwin and more Latour. “The critical point when comparing an ANT frame to an evolutionary one is the way in which the ANT framing highlights how AI will progress with and through people’s interactions with it. When viewed as an actor in a network, not a technology in isolation, AI will never be separate from human interventions.”

§ The part of the brain that controls movement also guides feelings. “The cerebellum contains three-quarters of all the brain’s neurons, which are organized in an almost crystalline arrangement, in contrast to the tangled thicket of neurons found elsewhere. … New experimental techniques are showing that in addition to controlling movement, the cerebellum regulates complex behaviors, social interactions, aggression, working memory, learning, emotion and more.”

Futures, Fictions & Fabulations

Atlantic Council’s Global Foresight 2024
“Picture a world with competing power centers, an unstable Russia stumbling into its post-Putin era, a nuclear-armed Iran emerging in the midst of an unruly nuclear age, and a United Nations incapable of carrying out its core functions—including convening the world’s countries to tackle problems, such as climate change, that no one state can solve and that pose a grave threat to global security and prosperity.”

The Strategic Foresight Book
This book will not teach you how to predict the future, but it will prepare you for the possibilities. It will not give you definitive answers, but it will help you ask decisive questions. It takes what we’ve learnt and created in the IFRC Solferino Academy as we’ve used strategic foresight across the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) network over the years.

Preferable future habitats
Beautiful work! “In this ongoing series, I continue to use the power of AI to explore a compelling question: What does a future look like where we successfully slow down and avert the looming abominations of collapse and extinction?”

Algorithms, Automation, Augmentation

Cook confirms Apple’s generative AI features are coming ‘later this year’
“As we look ahead, we will continue to invest in these and other technologies that will shape the future. That includes artificial intelligence, where we continue to spend a tremendous amount of time and effort, and we’re excited to share the details of our ongoing work in that space later this year.”

The dawn of the AI-military complex
“What is taking shape here is a whole pipeline for AI-moderated semi-autonomous decision making on the battlefield: Aerial and naval drone swarms for intel collection, generative AI for analyzing that intel for target selection, and autonomous aerial drone systems for attacks. All any human in the loop has to do is confirm.”

Two warring visions of AI
“Recoiling from the more far-fetched doomer or accelerationist scenarios needn’t preclude thinking long term. Indeed, we should be thinking about long-term harms to present and future humans from the systems we are already unleashing today.”


  • 🤔 👾 🎬 🎥 Apple has the most advanced glasses, loves and is intertwined with Disney but is battling Epic, so this alliance should be interesting. Disney invests $1.5 billion in Epic to create ‘persistent universe’ tied to Fortnite. “In addition to being a world-class games experience and interoperating with Fortnite, the new persistent universe will offer a multitude of opportunities for consumers to play, watch, shop and engage with content, characters, and stories from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, Avatar, and more.”
  • 🤔 🤓 📚 I could have used this two generations ago. Books and looks: gen Z is ‘rediscovering’ the public library. “‘We traditionally think of libraries as very quiet, and parts of them are, but what we observed watching gen Z in libraries is that there are some really great spaces for teens, big rooms where they can do things like gaming or making their own music,’ said Rachel Noorda, a co-author of the ALA report. ‘It’s a place to be solitary, but also a place to build community.’”
  • 😍 🤬 📸 Spanning Four Decades, Edward Burtynsky’s Photos Document the Devastating Impacts of Industry. “From the salt ponds of Spain to the eerie tunnels of Russia’s potash mines, Burtynsky has traveled the globe for the last four decades documenting the indelible impacts of industry.”
  • 🤯 🤖 🧫 🐁 Urine-powered Nanorobots shrink bladder tumours by 90%. “The administration of a single dose of nanorobots leads to a significant reduction in tumour volume, opening the door to more efficient and less invasive treatments for bladder cancer.”
  • 🕰️ 🎶 A 639-year-long John Cage organ piece just changed chord, for the first time in... “Monday 5 February 2024 is a day etched into the diaries of many 20th-century music enthusiasts. An epic, centuries-long performance of one of the most iconic pieces of experimental music has a note change, two years in the making.”
  • 😍 🗺️ ✈️ FAA Aviation Maps. “On Beautiful Public Data, Jon Keegan highlights the extremely information-rich flight maps produced by the Federal Aviation Administration that pilots use to find their way around the skies.”

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