Tuesday July 14th

AI is doomed

Why I have a pessimistic view of AI

  • I’ve been thinking about the future of AI, having attended sessions at both a mainstream AI conference and one at an un-mainstream conference. It’s left me feeling a bit pessimistic about the future of AI.
  • I’ve been thinking about why I got into research, and how at my core I’ve always been fascinated by ideas. Whether it’s filmmaking, art concept design, robotics, I am drawn towards that moment where an idea sparks, and it ignites like a flame, and sets off a series of events into motion.
  • Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but the field has felt so lackluster and shallow. People are doing things with AI, but we are now (if at all) asking deeper questions about technology. I think that that’s pretty scary, considering the amount of time that has passed with some of these technologies. But maybe it can still be considered relatively new.
  • I’m also incredibly wary of the idea of (re) invention. It historically brings back nightmares for me of people exploring “new” lands and claiming that they saw it first, therefore they get to own it, even though it was inhabited by others. Whoever remains after the bloodbath gets to tell the story. But the field has this hero complex, and (re)invention is often a result of the hero complex. We invented it first and we are incentivized by the idea that we invented it first (even if we’re completely wrong). Admittance of wrongdoing isn’t incentivized either in tech or Academia. It is seen as a sign of weakness.

I say this as someone with an outsider’s mind

  • In many ways, I don’t fit into the CS/ STEM community. Because I’m still early on in the tech world, my brain is still heavily wired like that of a liberal arts thinker. Whenever I meet someone with that background in that world, I gravitate towards them like a moth to a flame. And we have these discussions about how disappointed we are with the depth of work being done in that space. I’m amazed that someone else is thinking similarly, because I often question myself, “Is it just me?”. Why am I at the cutting edge but it all feels so empty?
  • I also wonder what it is about that field and that education that flattens or makes people adopt that kind of mindset. I want to know, for fear that it will infect me, too. Maybe I, too, will harp on about how I have found the next big SOTA algorithm for World Peace, or such nonsense. Maybe that too, will be enough for me to get a Best Paper award and get invited to keynotes, where I can pontificate about the truthiness of science and goodness and magnanimousness of the field. We are discovering something new, after all.

Or maybe not

  • Maybe we are blind. Maybe we are delusional. Maybe if the voices from the last few decades were to come back, they would project vile words onto us for forgetting and undoing all the things that they did in their generation so that we should never have to relive the oppressions, the mistakes, the sins of their past generations. Maybe this is the way of every generation to come. My friend once told me “that’s life; you make a mess, you clean it up”. Maybe it’s every generation’s fate to forget the history and pain of that before, only to repeat it again.

You should watch this really neat video!

  • This is a video I grew up watching as a child (I had a pretty multiracial upbringing). It’s Filipino, by the author R. O. Villanueva, and you can watch it here. It’s about preserving the Earth and not repeating our mistakes, but there are so many themes about gluttony, remembering and legacy here. What is the legacy tech and AI want to leave? I honestly could not tell you. Right now, it looks dismal. The space hasn’t yet found itself and doesn’t know what it is, or what its values are. And that’s frightening.

My fate

  • Lately I’ve been asking for advice from friends outside of my typical space. I don’t want to be like those people, I tell my friends. I don’t want to lose who I am. It wouldn’t be worth it for me if I lost myself. But is an acceptance into that space acquiescence?
  • My dad has been speaking to me lately and often mentions two phrases “noblesse obliges” and “passive resistance”. The first is the idea that because you are of a noble class, you should behave in a diplomatic way. The cruder way would be to say “you should eat crap and take it”. I think that in many ways, both Tech and Academia embed in you this idea of noblesse obliges. You are the chosen ones. Until your time has come, you sit there and you take it, whether it’s abuse, exploitation, or being broken by constant microagressions. We humilate you and you say nothing.
  • Passive resistance is also interesting. After my dad and I spoke about it, I said that it was familiar to me. It’s the Zoom meeting where you ask if anyone has questions, and people sit uncomfortably in silence, but they are messaging each other in disapproval. They won’t tell you to your face what they really think. Secretly, they are rebelling. I’d like to think I relate a lot to the latter. If you’ve ever worked in a job you hated, or had a despotic professor, you’ve probably lived passive resistance.

The life less shallow

  • How does one find depth in this space? I’ve been thinking that a lot of it is by finding outlets outside of these spaces. Spaces that will let you ask difficult questions, spaces where people will disagree and make you feel uncomfortable, spaces where the incentive is not just to be a sycophant in a line of disposable sycophants. I’m really happy this summer to have found a few spaces like that. Places where people tell you they are not impressed by half-arsed attempts by people in your field to understand complex problems. Where people aren’t afraid to say that isn’t good enough and to demand more. To incite rage. Where the stakes are not so low.

And I guess that’s it

Written on July 14, 2020