A five-minute thought experiment I’ve found more enlightening than years of meditation

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It’s the year 2120. Everybody is vegan, the English language has been largely replaced by memes, and your kids are struggling influencers. You’re the superintendent of a Bitcoin-mining facility, owned by an eccentric cryptocurrency zillionaire who took the slogan “to the Moon” a tad too seriously — the factory is literally on the rocky satellite.

Not that you’re complaining — it’s good money — but the Earth-to-Moon commute has been killing you for years. Almost literally. There are so many of these goddamn floating Tesla Roadsters zooming about that the company had to hire Chewbacca himself to maneuver the spaceship…


The secret is in the optics

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Programmers are wizards— poor, ragged characters turning coffee into code. I don’t know magic, I‘m merely an illusionist. My job is to be more authentic in being a fake programmer than real programmers are in being themselves.

I’m great what I do, an absolute beast of a charlatan. I’ve tricked businessmen into asking me to be their technical co-founder. I’ve fooled engineers into consulting me on artificial general intelligence. My act is so true to life the Justice Department once solicited my advice on creating a GUI interface using Visual Basic to track an IP-address of a serial killer.

The…


Humans 101

To forge great relationships, reveal your vulnerability

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Here’s a puzzle: You’re sociable. You’re fun to be around. You’ve got self-deprecating stories and an archive of jokes that lighten the mood of any group. You’re spontaneous. You’re good-looking — so much so, in fact, that a night out often turns into a semi-romantic escapade. You’re genuinely interested in other people, and you always listen intently to their problems and offer advice.

In short: You’re friendly.

Yet, if you choked on your dinner this week, there wouldn’t be a need for a casket. …


Think of your professional life as a journey that begins with drudgery and ends with love

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There’s an exchange in the Estonian literary classic Truth and Justice that has always stayed with me. It’s a conversation between a farmer and his son, who is about to leave the family estate for a stint in the Imperial Russian Army. Even if he is gone for only a few years, serving in the army is no joke. Almost every village has examples of young, able men who have gone away, only to come back unable. Or who don’t come back at all.

One can, therefore, sympathize with the father, who was hoping to bequeath the farm to his…


My journey out of an existential crisis

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If it really takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something, then I’m an expert in but one thing — enduring an existential crisis. For over a decade, I stumbled through life in a steady state of distress, my every hour of potential bliss invariably violated by life’s insistence that I explicitly state its meaning. I submitted thousands of answers — none were deemed sufficient.

That is not to say I made no progress. …


An affirmation of life

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He stood dangerously close to the edge of a cliff, staring hesitantly at the raging sea below. He felt the fear coursing through his body — not the fear of falling, but the fear that he might jump. The chaos beckoned, urging him to plunge himself into the abyss, to answer his subconscious drive toward death and self-destruction.

He thought of how easy it would be. There was a state of constant tension, as if he was pulled forward by an invisible rope. What was required was not action, but mere inaction. …


You’ve merely forgotten it

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They say a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. If wisdom had indeed been bestowed upon me, I’d have learned from Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince.

The story is simple enough. The Prince lives on a small asteroid. He’s lonely. His sorry days are spent tearing out hazardous baobab roots. Then, out of nowhere, a mysterious seed takes root. The Prince watches closely over the small shoot which is quite unlike any he has seen previously. Every day, the miraculous apparition grows in elegance, introducing the Prince to evermore beautiful colors and shapes. This is no baobab. It’s a rose!


A philosophy for a productive life.

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Newton’s first law states that an object at rest stays at rest. To get it moving in any useful direction, great force needs to be applied. Although Newton‘s principle talks about inanimate matter, we’ve come to regard it as a law of human nature, too.

Rest is our natural state of being, we’re told. We’re inherently lazy and self-indulgent. If it were up to us, we’d merely sleep, eat, mingle, and repeat. Jolting ourselves into motion, out of this congenital comfort zone, takes immense might. All sorts of trickery must be brought to bear, too, the self-help gurus keep regurgitating…


New advances in artificial intelligence spell the dusk of the era of human-computer symbiosis

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In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated the reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov. The world was in shock. It seemed computers, thus far thought to be little more than glorified calculators, had finally intruded upon the human domain of imagination and creativity.

The worry was in vain. Deep Blue had no capacity for ingenuity. It won by brute force alone, evaluating 200 million positions each second. It was an abomination to compare such a rudimentary algorithm to human originality. While the mindless machine toiled in trial-and-error, Kasparov was gently beckoned towards promising moves by his subconscious.


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When Gilles Vandewiele noticed a large number of studies reporting near-perfect accuracy in predicting whether would-be mothers will undergo premature delivery, his jaw dropped. This was huge.

The unbearably high mortality rate of infants has plagued humanity since its inception. Preterm birth, which afflicts every tenth newborn in the US, is the leading cause of these untimely deaths. If it was possible to say with certainty whether a woman will deliver early, preparations could be made to reduce the risk of complications.

However, forecasting premature births has proven to be elusive. For gynecologists to ascertain whether a woman is due…

Sten Sootla

Building robots by day, thinking hard how not to become one myself by night.

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