Curiosity, Consciousness, and Content Creation
Debating the philosophical challenges of AI in Session 4 at TKS
If you’re pursuing personal growth, I have a secret power for you: curiosity.
It’s a trait we’re born with, but grow out of for one reason or another. Perhaps we were shutdown by parents frustrated with you asking why for the hundredth time that afternoon, or by teachers who are trying to stick to their lesson plan. Or maybe you have a fixed mindset and curiosity is seen as a negative trait because it means you don’t know the answer. Whatever the reason, I implore you to reclaim your curiosity however you can. Curiosity is the antecedent to learning, the catalyst for growth.
It’s something I’ve had to be intentional about more recently. Last week I was taking a cooking class and chopping fennel and for some reason I got curious about how knives work. Seriously. It sounds so obvious: knife sharp. knife cut. But if you asked me to explain the science behind sharpness, I would only have some guesses. Following my curiosity led me down a YouTube and Quora rabbit hole and I plan to eventually write my own synthesized post on the topic based on what I’ve learned.
If you couldn’t guess, curiosity is our mindset of the week.
In the beginning, all forms of curiosity and learning are good. We are trying to build the habit and mindset. I believe that over time it’s important to separate good reasons for learning from bad. My favourite model of this comes from Julia Galef, founder of the Centre for Rationality. She classifies types of learning into two mindsets: the scout and the soldier. The scout seeks truth, looking to see the world as it exists. The soldier seeks to defend their point of view, fighting off threatening evidence.1
I call it scout mindset: the motivation to see things as they are, not as you wish they were…In scout mindset, there’s no such thing as a “threat” to your beliefs. If you find out you were wrong about something, great—you’ve improved your map, and that can only help you.
We should seek to learn for deeper understanding and to find new points of view, aiming to eliminate blind spots in our knowledge. We should not learn things for the sake of memorization, status, or to simply confirm what we already know. Progress comes from the unexpected. And the best way to learn is by being curious.
I believe curiosity is something that can and must be trained. If you’ve lost it, fret not, you can get it back. Here are a couple of tips for you to reclaim this vital part of life.
Listen to the voice in your head → I like to imagine curiosity is this little nagging voice in the back of my mind going “But wait Steven, why does it work like that?”. If you’ve ignored it for many years, the voice is probably very quiet. Pay attention to subtle mental signals. Do your best to be mindful of any situation where that feeling gets triggered. Perhaps it’s something you notice in a movie or TV show, or you come across a word in an article and you’re unfamiliar with the topic. Follow it!
Go from Dismissive to Curious2 → Think about how many times your judgement prevented you from digging deeper into a topic, especially in more socially-charged situations. You may think to yourself “why would anybody think eating nothing but meat is a good idea?” and dismiss those people as silly. But what if you didn’t? What if you genuinely asked the question, without judgement, “why do some people eat nothing but meat?”. Start from there and see what you end up learning. You might be surprised. This isn’t to say there will be a right answer in whatever question you follow, but at the minimum you will better understand the mindset of others.
You should really become a content creator
In the age of the internet, opportunity is abound, but not evenly distributed. The secret to serendipity is creating content. Almost every interesting person I know of, I know because they have shared something they wrote or recorded and shared online. How else would I hear about them?
I am a big advocate for creating content as a way to increase the serendipity in your life. I’ve experienced this firsthand and lived my life this way for years now. While I might not be the most prolific writer, I’ve maintained a personal blog where I have written for the last 4.5 years. This has led me to some local speaking opportunities and meeting interesting people who have read my writing. It’s amazing because it wasn’t even my intent when starting writing online.
Creating and sharing content allows you to showcase your expertise and start conversations with interesting people. It’s not enough to toil away in obscurity, you should instead seek to work with the garage door up. This is a skill we teach and practice at TKS — it’s beneficial far beyond the follower count.
There are two main categories of benefits to creating content. The first are the personal benefits, where you’re able to:
deepen your understanding of the topic by synthesizing and teaching it
build your communication skills by writing or creating visuals & videos
connect with interesting people as a result of sharing your work
and showcase your knowledge and expertise to others
What’s more interesting to me is what I would consider the collective benefit to creating content, and that’s contributing to the corpus of knowledge shared by humanity.
You give provide valuable knowledge for people who aren’t as far along as you in their journey, but also provide something for people to build upon. When people use the expression built on the shoulder’s of giants, by writing and publishing content, you have the potential to become one of those giants.
The crazy part is the barrier to entry for anyone is so low! Anyone with internet access can start to publish on Twitter, Medium, Substack, or elsewhere. Anyone with a smartphone can start creating visual content on places like YouTube. I am consistently astounded by the creativity people have, especially those with limited access to tools. If I’ve learned anything from my career building products, is that constraints lead to incredible creative outcomes.
What’s stopping you from publishing online?
Toying around with Artificial Intelligence
In the spirit of feeding our curiosity, this week we talked about Artificial Intelligence in sessions. Students not only got to explore what was possible with technologies like GPT-3 and StableDiffusion, but to debate some broader philosophical topics. We explored what’s happening behind the scenes with GPT-3, trying to understand what data sets it might be pulling from or what its limitations are.
Later students discussed ideas like whether AI could achieve consciousness, whether free will exists, what laws might be necessary to govern AI progress, and what jobs AI is unlikely to replace. The breakout rooms felt alive with the energy of curious students debating the future and how we can balance humanity and progress. Conversations got heated but were fun to observe and take part in; my brain definitely felt heavy after three rounds of this.
Trying to explain some of the technical aspects of our sessions feels futile as it’s an experiential thing. Talking about it is not the same as being in it, so I encourage you to ask some friends or colleagues whether they think we should pursue consciousness in AI and see where that takes you. In the meantime, I’ll share a few articles I read recently on the state of AI that might spark your own curiosity.
Over the last 6-8 weeks AI hit an inflection point, specifically in the visual content generation space. The images in this article were all generated by AI using a variety of Dall E 2, StableDiffusion, and Midjourney. Here are three articles covering the topic.
Company Building in the Curiosity Phase of AI by Michael Dempsey
We are going through a period of investment in AI where most are going to be set up for disappointment. It’s that new new where firms are overpaying for anyone adding “AI” to their tagline, domain, or mission statement. In this period, Dempsey argues that founders must ignore customer demands (which are likely short-term and too fickle) and stick to their mission and a path to defensibility.
The Enchanted Notebook by Packy McCormick
Packy tries to paint the picture that in the not-so-distant future, innovation will only be limited by our imagination. With the technologies that I mentioned in this post, it’s already possible, with enough patience, to generate a full movie script with AI including storyboards to match. How long until real production capabilities are attached and we can ask AI for something and it is fabricated through 3D or 4D printing technologies?
The Age of Open Foundation Models by Sarah Guo
The inflection point within AI was not necessarily the release of their technologies, but the speed of innovation that happened once technologies like StableDiffusion were released as Open Source. It’s already being implemented on different platforms and within apps and games. This has marked a notable transition into some of barriers to broader adoption and innovation in AI. Sarah makes a case for why we might be entering into a new age of AI tech, built off a more open culture of development.
Where do you think AI is going next?
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