Read Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record in recent weeks. Not sure what the rationale for this book is. Sort of an autobiography meant as an apologia, it seems. The first range of chapters didn’t do much for me. In the later chapters there’s more I found interesting.

Takeaways are that despite his young age he was way deeper involved with the three letter agencies than those agencies after he left implied. His last more removed position was his way of building an exit strategy, though the agencies said that made his role insignificant. The point isn’t where he worked last, but what he did in the years before. Working with lots of contractors adds to an agency’s plausible deniability however.

The book also makes clearer what it is that he currently does, even in his isolated state in Russia (where he stranded as his passport was canceled by the US mid flight, while en route to South America), why he chose to work with reporters the way he did, and how he could ensure nothing of the material he took with him was with him when he left Hong Kong.

Other than that, the book usefully makes the key points again that matter: that meta data is much more telling about you than the name suggests, that there is a huge difference between scooping everything up to retroactively search for things later, versus the previous method of searching for additional information once something suspicious has been detected. This makes all of us suspect by default, depending on the type of light shed on all the data collected about us already.

Witchhunt Snowden
A poster of Edward Snowden in Berlin, I took this photo in 2014 a year after the first publications

Notes on reading Novacene by James Lovelock 2019

Definition of life: entities that reduce entropy, as they organise their environment

I knew his 1970s Gaia Theory, but remembered it mostly as a type of systems thinking and seeing earth as a complex system. But he adds something key:

In earth’s case the purpose of the system is to keep earth cool, to keep temperatures at 15C average. And do so as our sun slowly heats up.

A startling assumption to me is that earth really is not in the Goldilocks zone, but Mars is. We would be like Venus, hot, if not for the entropy reducing earth life. That life continuously draws down heat.
Furthermore, to an alien observer earth would not look cool but much hotter because of dumpng solar heat continuously.

The sun is heating up and so is earth therefore. Keeping cool is our prime directive. The climate urgency is making it worse and burning fossil fuells (stored heat from the past) should stop.

The Anthropocene started with the steam engine, when humans could influence their environment on a global scale. The Novacene is the coming age of AI.
The optimal temperature range for electronics and life are similar, and life and AI have the same hard upper temperature limit of 47C.
Above it we will have a runaway process to becoming like Venus.

AI will not deliberately kill us because it needs the world to stay cool under a heating sun. Carbon based life is needed for it. They will supplant us by evolution, slow not sudden, as evolution moves beyond us, as it always would.

Interesting notion: AI might become 1M times faster than us, but they are bound by the same physics as us. It means e.g. their travel will be at roughly the same speed.
Which will be 1M as boring and slower to AI than to us.

Makes a good caveat: AI would need to start its evolution from ‘good’ beginnings. E.g. not from autonomous weapons platforms.
Yet precisely in civic tech such as aviation we put hard constraints on AI. But we do not on military AI, making it more likely it will evolve from there.

My takeaway from this is how to use AI for civic tech, and set it free as it were, with a sense of communal values. Including with a sense of the Prime Directive to keep cool.

That I think is a core flaw in Lovelocks reasoning. Yes, the PD is to keep cool. Not only for our self-created heating, but mostly for the sun heating.
But how many humans are aware of this, and of those how many care enough to act, given the timescale of the suns heating in millions of years?
How will we make AI aware, and will they care where we do not, given that their relative timescale is even up to a million times longer?

He stresses the notion of the engineer and artisanal engineering. Where knowing how to make things work is a priori more important than knowing why it works.
This also ties into his notion that intuiting is key for engineering, and the scientific method of standing on the shoulders of others is more suited for the ‘know why’

Some of my takeaways:

  • When increasing the abundance of life is good to keep cool, greening your urban living environment makes sense on a deeper level than just cooling the city.
    Also as cities are an efficient way to house us humans at our current numbers.
  • How to use ML for civic tech, for networked agency
  • How to explore ML, what it currently does, what it can do, areas of issues it could be used in.
  • What autonomous things would be valuable in the home, neighbourhood, city.
  • What would an “AI in the wall” be like?

Soort combinatie van GTD en The 12 Week Year, dat ik al jaren gebruik, met wat losse stukken van elders.

  • Een goede reminder voor stukken van mijn eigen routines, en meteen wat dingen, ook inhoudelijk, in de agenda gezet en genoteerd voor opvolging.
  • Voor een auteur uit de journalistiek een weinig kritische houding op het gebruik van Google en Evernote. Dat kan en moet anders. Voor Google ook prima mogelijk, bijvoorbeeld met Nextcloud. Voor Evernote veel lastiger.
  • De titel werkt niet voor mij. Grip is me te veel op control gericht. Krampachtig vastknijpen tot je knokkels er wit van uit slaan ligt op de loer. Zelf ben ik gebaat bij minder streng zijn dan het woord grip bij mij suggereert. Een woord als flow spreekt meer aan
  • Alle aangereikte adviezen zijn gericht op gecompliceerd maar lineair werk. Niet op daadwerkelijk complex (of chaotisch) werk