If Moore’s Law applied to a 1971 Volkswagon Beetle the way it did to 1971 computer chip technology, then today, “you would be able to go with that car 300,000 miles per hour. You would get two million miles per gallon of gas, and all that for the mere cost of 4 cents!”
Tad Friend at The New Yorker has just published a great snapshot of Sam Altman’s leadership at Y Combinator. It is worth a read for anyone interested in topics like:
- technology and human progress
- generating the next phase of economic growth
- A.I. and transhumanism
- crowd-funding a smart city
The following excerpts give a hint at the full contents of the article.
On Altman’s ruthless enthusiasm for big, future-transforming ideas:
“Altman is rapidly building out an economy within Silicon Valley that seems intended to essentially supplant Silicon Valley—a guild of hyper-capitalist entrepreneurs who will help one another fix the broken world. Everyone has cautioned him against it.”
On A.I., human limitations, and technological possibilities (embracing the Singularity?):
“On a daylong hike with friends north of San Francisco, Altman relinquished the notion that human beings are singular. As the group discussed advances in artificial intelligence, Altman recognized, he told me, that “there’s absolutely no reason to believe that in about thirteen years we won’t have hardware capable of replicating my brain. Yes, certain things still feel particularly human—creativity, flashes of inspiration from nowhere, the ability to feel happy and sad at the same time—but computers will have their own desires and goal systems. When I realized that intelligence can be simulated, I let the idea of our uniqueness go, and it wasn’t as traumatic as I thought.” He stared off. “There are certain advantages to being a machine. We humans are limited by our input-output rate—we learn only two bits a second, so a ton is lost. To a machine, we must seem like slowed-down whale songs.”
On the idea of a crowd-funded smart city:
“Recently, YC began planning a pilot project to test the feasibility of building its own experimental city. It would lie somewhere in America, or perhaps abroad, and would be optimized for technological solutions: it might, for instance, permit only self-driving cars. “It could be a college town built out of YC, the university of the future,” Altman said. “A hundred thousand acres, fifty to a hundred thousand residents. We crowdfund the infrastructure and establish a new and affordable way of living around concepts like ‘No one can ever make money off of real estate.’ ”
On the preference for action over caution:
“For Altman, the best way to discover which future was in store was to make it. One of the first things he did at OpenAI was to paint a quotation from Admiral Hyman Rickover on its conference-room wall. “The great end of life is not knowledge, but action,” Rickover said. “I believe it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him. . . . We must live for the future, not for our own comfort or success.” Altman recounted all the obstacles Rickover overcame to build America’s nuclear-armed Navy. “Incredible!” he said. But, after a considering pause, he added, “At the end of his life, when he may have been somewhat senile, he did also say that it should all be sunk to the bottom of the ocean. There’s something worth thinking about in there.”
Tracking shortcuts as I need and find them. Will update as opportunity affords:
Multi-Line Select: <ALT>-click
I’ve become a big fan of Microsoft’s free open source code editor, Visual Studio Code.
When teaching new students, I find it important to turn off the intellisense autocompletion features. That can be done by adding the following lines to user preferences:
Brackets is an outstanding code editor.
However, if you’re just learning to code, you will want to discipline yourself to know the syntax without Brackets holding your hand.
To turn off code autocompletion as well as smart indentation, add these preferences to your user preferences file:
“Truth crushed to earth shall rise again.”
William Cullen Bryant
Aspiring programmers often ask the question, “What language should I begin with.”
The first answer is: the first programming language you learn doesn’t matter much. Learn the principles. If you keep programming, you’ll learn more languages anyway.
But the question returns: “I still need to pick a language to begin learning the principles.”
This is where it gets messy. The recommendations come flooding in:
Each has its advantages.
Among these Python is a standout, for a few key reasons.
1. Python is fun.
2. Python is easy to set up.
Some languages, such as Java or C#, have much higher setup and maintenance overhead.
3. Python is not going away anytime soon.
4. Python is a tool of choice for doing some very big things.
For instance: YouTube, Google, Instagram, Pinterest, Quora, Reddit, Dropbox, Civilization IV, and more. It’s also widely used for penetration testing, data analysis, scientific computing, and more.
5. Python jobs pay well, and python programmers are in high demand.
Yi-Jirr Chen has gathered a number of relevant statistics in an excellent article comparing benefits of several languages here.
Ready to get Started?
For all of the above reasons, I’ve elected to add Python to my own repertoire, and it’s what I’ll be using to teach Intro to Computer Programming in our Information Systems program at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
If you’d like to learn more and get started, here are some resources, below.
For Further Reading
Apps for Learning
A great piece by a friend and fellow Bartian.
This week, my fellow citizens in small-town (Bartlesville) Oklahoma, go to vote.
Yet the choice is not about Republicans or Democrats.
It is a bond issue that will attempt to shield our local schools from crippling budget cuts.
Turnout is expected to be very low.
And that’s a shame, because there are lots of reasons to be FAR more excited about a local school bond, than there are to excited about either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
Here are five:
- BECAUSE TRUMP IS GOING LOSE, NO MATTER HOW MANY FACEBOOK POSTS YOU WRITE.
He just is—and for lots of reasons. But mostly because we haven’t seen this kind of mind-numbing self-sabotage since Ryan Lochte called his mom from Rio. Given this, it would make more sense to direct your political passion to other votes at the state and local levels.
- BECAUSE UNLIKE THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE, THE MAIN OPTIONS DON’T FEEL LIKE A REQUEST…
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Witnessing the continuing decline of American conservatism, I can’t help but think — what if the Bush-Cheney administration had shown Colin Powell the respect he deserved as Secretary of State in 2001-2004?
Powell could easily have gone on to be the Republican nominee in 2008. Win or lose, he would have represented American conservatives well — and we would be a better country for it.
For a reminder regarding the circumstances of Powell’s resignation, here is a good read: From “The Truth About Colin Powell” — Brookings Institution, 2004:
“On Iraq, Powell made clear … that he had real reservations about the war and that he warned the president and other Cabinet members how costly an intervention in Iraq could be. But once it became clear that Bush was going to act, Powell decided to try to shape the strategy rather than oppose it. As his friend General Anthony Zinni put it, Powell concluded that ‘we’re going down this road and he wants to keep steering the train.’
“The problem, however, is that Powell did not end up steering the train but simply going along for the ride. The administration used Powell’s credibility and public relations skills to help oversell the case for war and to reassure worried allies, while the Pentagon ideologues violated the ‘Powell Doctrine’ by sending too few forces, ignored State Department advice on postwar planning, and mismanaged the occupation.”
Cheney-Rumsfeld’s disregard for Powell’s wisdom began a trend that has led to years of conservative decline. Rather than admitting their own mistakes, conservative leaders and media have consistently opted to cast blame everywhere else, finger-pointing and lashing out at whoever’s available.
Trump is the perfect manifestation of the resulting conservative style — devoid of substance, unwilling to take responsibility for its own mistakes, surviving only by fear and resentment.
If American conservatism has a future, it’s going to need to begin with repentance for past mistakes. (Especially for the years 2003 – 2016.) And it’s going to have to rebuild on the basis of leaders — and arguments — demonstrating seriousness, substance, and character.