Q&A 022

Published on:
February 17, 2021

Hi All,

This week we've shifted gears a bit and explored various aspects of choices and serendipity. We hope it inspires contemplation and exploration. Enjoy!

🅰️🅱️ Choice

During a call with investors last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained how he wants to start experimenting with people picking out their own favourite recommendation algorithm. That would mean that not Twitter's own, but your choice of algorithm would decide what turns up on your timeline. Dorsey even floated the idea of having a sort of marketplace, where people could offer and shop for algorithms.

A lot of the flack that Social Media companies receive, is tied to the mechanisms that decide what content you get to see. We earlier promoted Netflix 'The Social Dilemma' that explains in shocking detail how algorithms test and promote content with no other apparent goal than to keep you clicking down the rabbit-hole for as long as possible. Extended engagement is a metric for success, and leads to more possible advertising income.

I have not been a fan of every experiment Jack Dorsey has attempted (just check his beard). While this effort can also be explained as a possible hedge against Section 230 changes (the contested US law that gives platforms protection from user-generated content), I tend to like this direction. Even if we have to pay for less manipulative algorithms, we can start seeing how we pay either way; money, privacy, freedom. We'll have a new option that does not challenge our willpower every time we open Social Media or forces us to leave the scene altogether, and that's progress.

📐Chaos

I have a somewhat love-hate relationship with chaos. When I enter a kitchen right after supper has been prepared, I can be completely out of balance just by the impression of filthy dishes being everywhere. On the other hand, chaos is often the beginning of something creative and new, like the scattered parts of a complex jigsaw puzzle lying on the floor luring me into piecing them together.

In our weekly deliberations, Quinten triggered me by stating:

"Chaos is human's certificate of incapacity to capture a phenomenon in a model."

The word chaos comes from the Greek word xάος, meaning 'emptiness' or 'void' and refers, in Greek mythology, to the state that preceded the creation of the cosmos (universe). It is also depicted as an endless emptiness in which everything falls continuously in all directions.

This disorder often forms the basis for new creations. Chaos might therefore indeed be nature's deliberate setting to propel development and create diversity. An endless and undescribable generator of new possibilities.

For me personally, mastering chaos is one of the biggest challenges as I often encounter it when I seem least prepared and causes me to almost literally freeze. And perhaps that is exactly where the solution lies: do not be prepared, but embrace it and use its energy to fuel your creativity and development.

🧐 Genius

Does it take a genius to define what a genius is? Professor emeritus of music, Craig Wright at Yale University as a self-proclaimed non-genius decided the opposite and that being a non-genius was the best position to study the characteristics of a genius. As part of his research, he teaches the 'genius course' at Yale and collected his findings in the book 'The Hidden Habits of Genius'.

"If you’re a prodigy with a great gift for something, you can simply do it – yet might not be aware of why and how. And you don’t ask questions. Indeed, the geniuses I met seemed too preoccupied with committing acts of genius to consider the cause of their creative output."

Like an engineer, he approached the question analytically and derived a formula to describe a genius: G = S x N x D. In words: Genius (G) equals Significance (S) of the degree of impact or change multiplied by the Number (N) of people impacted and the Duration (D) of that impact.

As Prof Wright notes himself, the formula had shortcomings and was useful only to frame various discussions. This allowed him to conclude that genius does not have an absolute definition but is merely a human construct that’s dependent on time, place and culture. Moreover, he interestingly noted that women, at least at Yale, don’t seem to be as interested in exploring the nature of genius as males are.

We often ascribe new, useful inventions and progress to acts of geniuses. Often, this progress comes at the price of destroying old habits, complete market sectors or even cultures. Like the author Edmond de Goncourt said:

"Almost no one loves the genius until he or she is dead. But then we do, because now life is better."

To my mind, everyone is a genius; at the same time, no-one seems to be genius enough to recognise this.

🚙💨 Tesla

Last week, when Tesla filed its annual 10-K report with the SEC, it revealed an investment of over $1.5 Billion in Bitcoin, causing the cryptocurrency to soar to its highest valuation ever.

As for Musk, I do not think any one person has contributed more to the transition to electric vehicles than he has. On the other hand, I think his mission to make humanity a multi-planetary species and set up shop on Mars 'for our survival' and his dystopian view of AI mostly reflects his technocratic, analytical and exponential worldview and lacks emotional wisdom. Exactly what makes him successful in his main realm of business. ⚖️

In his decision on buying Bitcoin, his anti-authoritarian impulses have clearly trumped his desire to save the planet. By design, the 'proof of work' mechanism that makes Bitcoin work, is extremely inefficient and power-hungry. The Verge reminds us:

"If bitcoin were a country, its annual electricity consumption would rank 30th in the world. It would use just under the amount of energy Norway consumes and slightly more than Argentina, according to the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, which keeps an updated estimate of bitcoin’s energy consumption."

I would not go as far as John Quiggin (economics professor at the University of Queensland) calling it "environmental vandalism", but the move sparked a big jolt of cognitive dissonance in me, only to resolve upon accepting that moves like those are just the other side of the same coin. And I still feel the dissonance, the tension and the release, make for a great piece of music.

That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, click here to sign up. You can browse earlier editions in our archive.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and tips. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

Have a great week!

Quinten & Alphons