State of the P.Wang, 2018
So much has happened since I last wrote a long-form blog post here.
First, the question of audience: This blog post is for my colleagues, collaborators, and interested parties in any of my intellectual circles. I move between many circles, but predominant ones are Anaconda (“work”), the open source PyData/SciPy/Python community, my friends, colleagues, and intellectual nemeses within Rally Point Alpha / Intellectual Dark Web and its vast penumbra; the new friends and acquaintances in the Decentralized Internet / P2P web / blockchain space. I’m also a member of the broad, old-timer geek population of Austin, TX, and I’m a father to two young-ish children, and this is somewhat addressed to members of my geographical community.
The goals of this blog post are:
- to catch everyone up on a multitude of things that have been happening in my life and my intellectual development;
- to help form connections between these different circles and communities in which I participate;
- to call for help on several items;
- to get feedback on my plans moving forward.
To address any potential alarm at the wording of that last sentence: No, I am not contemplating a change in job or anything like that, for those who may be concerned. I am excited about the developments and amazing progress we’re making at Anaconda, across so many fronts, and I believe I am an integral part of continuing to drive those efforts forward.
However, this is also kind of the major issue in my life right now.
There is no end of work for me to do at Anaconda. We sit at the vanguard of the emerging AI and machine learning space, and we are square in the middle of the evolving dynamics between commercial software and technology vendors, and open source communities. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to be working in this space, at this point in time, but just staying on top of weekly developments is a full time job, to say nothing of actually trying to engage in technology development, customer engagement, and provide thought leadership.
At the same time, I cannot help but feel drawn into several important, broader topics as our entire civilization seems to be careening forward at an accelerated pace:
(1) The undeniable, existential failure of the Internet to provide good service to humanity. We have failed. https://github.com/pzwang/lostweb (DRAFT). This failure of our communications medium either directly creates or greatly exacerbates some of the other concerns of mine. But this sphere of concern is mainly centered around the need to rebuild the global information system, from the physical layers up.
(2) Imminent nonlinear transformations of economics and finance: The emergence of technologies that seem, to me, to ensure that most human labor — blue collar and white collar — will be rendered redundant within 10–20 years. This is not a problem by itself, but when coupled with a global economic order that is based completely on scarcity economics of labor and cartel/rent-seeking around resource scarcity, we are hurtling towards total system failure. As someone who is reasonably familiar with the financial systems of the world (having seen some of the sausage get made), I am convinced that no major institution is really, actually trying to help most of society escape the ill effects when the global credit bubble collapses. I am concerned that multiple sovereignties have realized that a continued state of proxy war is the best way to reduce the cost of sovereign credit, since people will buy more insurance when they live in fear.
(3) A deep transformation of the concept of “software”, unlike anything we’ve seen for 30 years. This is driven primarily by (1) the emergence of data-centric computing, (2) the collapse of the Windows/Intel technology monolith, and (3) the success of open source and global labor economics destroying what had been a very profitable American monopoly on software know-how. Most of the conversations I see about sustainability of open source are beating around the bush of this fundamental business cycle (although OSS has a particular epicycle since it represents a clash of cultures between labor economics and abundance-oriented affective labor.)
(4) The emergence of the ability to build new kinds of human organizations and institutions, that were simply impossible to conceive at any point prior to the mid 20th century. These require us to revisit the very base ideas of the philosophy of government, human psychology, cognitive psychology, and sociology, in order to honestly arrive at answers of, “what is best, given what we now know and now can do?” In my experience, it is exceptionally rare to find people who are equipped with the intellectual self-sufficiency to be able to deconstruct what they know — even among the well-educated professional circles in which I roam. How do I help catalyze a global conversation among those who are so equipped?
(5) How do I raise my children in this environment? They need to be aware of the unique moment in history into which they’ve been birthed; to be sensitive to the human suffering that all these changes will entail, but to also be courageous and pragmatic in forging the future. The post-war American middle class value system has been all but gutted, reduced to knee-jerk tribalism, nihilistic secularism, self-worth tied to manufactured demand for consumption of physical and cultural artifacts, and a total ferality towards the substrate institutions that keep our trains running on time.
(6) How do I live an intentional life at this point, when every single avenue of social interaction, communications, and learning is under siege by attentional warfare? Hierarchical sense-making is dead; we live in a network now and the only possible way forward is to embrace that. But what does it mean to create an intentional space in that network for myself, and more importantly, to exert my personal will over that space?
To those seeing these topics for the first time, they may seem like navel-gazing or hyper-intellectualization going off the deep end. If this is how you feel, then please feel free to ignore. But I know that many of these concerns resonate with many people in my network of friends and colleagues.
What I am in need of is not some “productivity hack”. I need to formulate a strategy (or set of strategies) that allow me to address all of these significant items. There is a timeliness to them; and although only a few are urgent, all are deeply important. (Arguably, there is only a single urgent concern for me, and that is ensure the success of my company.)
On each of the above topics, I have written multiple drafts of blog posts and ideas. I do feel an urgent need to get these sorted and out the door in a consistent, cross-referenced way. I believe that will help me draw the right network of collaborators on each topic. I will mostly use Medium.com to publish these.
What I would like
Sometimes when people present me with complex problems, I use a technique where I ask them to imagine they could wave a magic wand, and solve an arbitrarily hard part of their problem. Does everything else simplify and fall into place? If not, what if they could wave the magic wand a second time?… and repeat.
So applying this to myself: what are my main constraints right now? I am led to believe that it’s mostly an issue of resources. If I were confident that spending less than 120% of my time on Anaconda would still lead to successful outcomes there, then I could organize a small set of collaborators to engage with on efforts in the other areas. Of course, no such guarantee is possible, short of winning the lottery. And if I were to win the lottery? Then of course I would set up a research institute as a Phase 1, with each of the above topics as a mainline of development. Multiple companies, nonprofits, political campaigns, and physical community-building initiatives may then spin out from that Institute.
Call For Help
The only solution I see is to be much more deliberate and intentional with how I spend my time, and put a bunch of personal time in the short term into building up an inner circle of advisors/delegates in each of these topics of my interest. There is some legwork involved, to set up the communications infrastructure and cadence of meetings, laying out the initial work programs. In my mind, it feels like a mix between an idealized Hogwarts and DARPA, but no budget and certainly no death eaters.
If you have concrete suggestions about ways to untangle, organize, and enhance my efforts through my current nexus of interests, I would deeply appreciate your suggestions.