The loss of my optimism

Apologies to anyone that had to deal with it in one way or another, I know it is not pleasant, and I have realized that contrary to Cunningham’s Law, I was not getting arguments for optimism in return.

As a child I would watch Short Circuit (a 1986 movie) and hope we would have robots by today. Just before starting my PhD in AI I would have hoped we would be making more progress towards the technological singularity at this moment.

Nevertheless, during my PhD I did not learn much AI, I did learn about the pervasiveness politics in every organization, big or small, including the scientific community (e.g. to accept or reject papers). The 2008 crisis was mind-blowing. Politicians can sign a piece of paper and assign or deny several millions to basic research, a small gesture with greater impact than dozens of research lifetime careers. Instead, they seem to prefer spending millions in public money to useless infrastructures to benefit some friends, who will then give politicians their part back.

Meanwhile, companies are optimized to get profit, independently of value creation. Profitable activities may include breaking the law, changing it by lobbying, or destroying the environment. Certainly the law will not enforce marketing, to persuade consumers, to have less budget than R&D, to improve products.

Politics, corruption, economy and behavioral economics, incentives, moral hazards, a focus on sales and talking over making,… All old topics, but the rabbit hole knows no end.

A man who dares to waste one
hour of time has not discovered
the value of life.

Charles Darwin

To be honest, you can find millions or billions of stories much worse than mine. I am well above the average, I had the opportunity of doing a post-doc that fixed my h-index to non-embarrassing levels. I have the privilege of being a white man born in the middle class of a first world country. I am fine, and I know it. I could relax, obey, and be in the world top 1%. That is a waste of life if I can do more.

I am not complaining, but trying to explain. This is not a problem specific in academia, (Spanish) politics, or companies. It may be a problem in human nature, or intelligent species. At some level of intelligence, societal organization, or abstraction, delusion, bullshit, and hype may be a more fit strategy than actually doing something. Unfortunately, such a focus leads to diminishing returns in progress, at that point we can only wait for extinction.

It may be an evolution law, and a great filter, or there may be hope. Whining on the Internet is unlikely to help in any way. Anyway, the agreement of thousands of people would not prevent us from being as crazy as flat-earthers. I have to find a way to spend my time more constructively, finding solutions or at least proofs, and not fooling myself about possibly imaginary issues. This blog is not helping, but I am not done with it just yet.


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