Tech Trends into the 2020s (#TT2020s)

In 2009, US smartphone penetration was 17%. By 2016, it was 80%.
Entirely new economies spawned in the wake of that hypergrowth.

2009: 41k apps on the App Store. Uber founded as UberCab.
2016: Nearly 3Million App Store apps. Uber does 2 Billion rides/yr.

The economies of tomorrow will build on the nascent technologies of today. And Minnesota will build a good future for itself by fostering great startups that commercialize those technologies.


An event built for tech entrepreneurs

On March 7th, hundreds of members of Minnesota’s entrepreneurial ecosystem will gather at the The Minnesota Entrepreneur Kickoff.  A focal point of conversation is emergent technologies.


5 steps to make the most of the event

Get insight: Study the first-movers in each technology area from all around the world.  A wide array of exemplars provides an intuitive understanding of the potential of a technology.


Try out a pitch: See if you can transfer the key concepts from the exemplars above to a new idea in an industry you’re close to. This act of trying to explain a new idea reveals gaps in knowledge and leads to questions.


Ask questions: At the kickoff, 9 active tech leader founders / product builders will field your questions about commercializing these emerging technologies.

Watch Panelist Intros here:


Talk about the details: The evening program concludes with a Drone Race from Hydra FPV.  During that time, meet with other attendees and many of the tech leaders from the Q&A to discuss more specifics about emergent technologies.


Keep the ball rolling: After the event, there’s a stream of bootcamps, accelerators, competitions, and even a Startup Weekend.  Victor Gutwein of VC firm M25 ranks the Twin Cities as the 2nd best Midwest startup community (after Chicago).


The companies gaining traction in emergent technologies today will be the household names of the 2020s.  We want a lot of those to be MN companies.

Register here:

See you there.

Disciplining a Child Demands Ongoing Assessment of Underlying Values

DRAFT FORM (needs clean-up)


Assertion: Choosing how to discipline a child is a declaration of your personal value set. Thus, discipline is difficult to enact not so much because the procedures are difficult to implement but the personal value set is unknown or its translation into disciplinary procedures is unknown.

Discipline is primarily about shaping a set of habits in accordance with a set of values. I.e. Moving a person along a spectrum of habit acquisition, ultimately toward internalization of the value set:

-2. Actively opposes desired behavior
-1. Performs undesired behavior without thinking (bad habit)
0. No habit, no knowledge of desired behavior
1. Knows about desired behavior
2. Performs desired behavior under supervision
3. Performs desired behavior without supervision
4. Performs desired behavior without thinking (Habit)
5. Actively improves and sustains habit (Internalized Values)

E.g. Daily exercise is a habit. It is not a value. The values underlying the habit of daily exercise might include Personal health (live longer, better), Work ethic (reduce resistance to work and make manual tasks easier), and Sport enthusiasm (be a better athlete).

Example Habit #2: Saying “please” and “thank you” and other pleasantries. Underlying values: Relational harmony (it reduces interpersonal friction), Courtesy & Respect protocols (it signals awareness and trustworthiness), Conversational aesthetic (it sounds nice).

An old adage (perhaps more often a joke) justifies discipline in the following way… “That’s how my parents did it, and look how I turned out.”

This is a shortcut — training a habit without assessment of its underlying value set.

This same shortcut is often applied in management… “This is how my manager did it, and look how I turned out.”

In coaching… “This is how my coach did it…”

John Wooden famously trained his basketball players at UCLA on how to put on their socks and tie their shoes. UCLA took home 10 NCAA Championships in the 12 years Wooden coached. Wooden retired in 1975, and UCLA didn’t win another national championship for 20 years.

The value which shaped the players’ habits during practice was a meticulous attention to detail… each technique performed precisely according to a design — and drilled until unconsciously perfect.

Do parents want to succeed at child-rearing the way John Wooden succeeded at basketball coaching?

It’s cliche for parents to want “the best” for their child.  Their values determine the “best” they aim for.

Basketball is simpler than childrearing.  No college basketball coach will argue that “10 NCAA Championships in 12yrs” isn’t a peak of excellence.

In child-rearing, there is no “10 NCAA Championships in 12yrs”.  In school, there’s “college and career-readiness”, but that’s more like “NCAA Tournament Round of 32 readiness”. 

There is no singular goal in child-rearing.  No championship trophy.

For my part, I’ve come to see child-rearing as something like 100 different trophies of varying heights, under 8 main capabilities.  Each capability is staged below, roughly according to their first appearance during human development and somewhat mirroring Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

  1. Physical
  2. Self-Sufficiency
  3. Cognitive
  4. Relational
  5. Artful & Expressive
  6. Self-Knowledge
  7. Reputational
  8. Leadership

Each main capability then has a set of sub-capabilities:

  1. Physical
    1. General Manual Dexterity, Eye-Hand/Foot Coordination
    2. General Strength, Mobility, Conditioning, and Recovery
    3. Sport
    4. Musical Instrument
    5. Tools
    6. Somatic stimulation of mental state (Body-Mind Coordination)
    7. Body Language & Communication Protocols
    8. Self-defense and Survival

And, of course, each sub-capability has specific skill sets and developmental stages.

The relative heights of each trophy in each domain is determined by the amount of time dedicated to practice x the quality of that practice.  And the quality may actually have an exponential effect.

The amount of time dedicated to practice, and the quality of practice demanded, are functions of the personal value set, resources available for allocation to child-rearing activities, and the capabilities of the parents.

Assertion: Lack of access to Expert-level teachers a far bigger void than present technology can fill

As I see it, the critical problem of education today remains the same as it has always been: access to expert-level teachers. These are individuals with expertise in both the discipline under study and the discipline of teaching.  I’ll go into greater depth on a definition of expert teacher at the end (go to definition).
I’ve thought carefully about the role of technology in education. At present, it is suitable only as an aid in teaching and learning — and primarily to collect and aggregate practice and performance data for display to the learner and teacher. In its present form, it simply cannot displace expert teachers. It is possible that with present technologies, using more and better practice and performance data, we may be able to train unsupervised learning algorithms which can then make recommendations to the learner on par with an expert teacher (though that is not their only function).
Reinforcement learning algorithms already teach themselves to reach superhuman performance levels (most recently and notably, in adversarial games such as Go, DotA2, and Heads-up, No-Limit Poker). However, as Hod Lipson at Columbia pointed out, the missing bridge is that the machine must still be taught how to teach a human. And that is no simple matter.
Then there is basically the same teaching experience, just widely distributed via video & text: MOOCs, Youtube videos, Tutorials, etc. Clearly these are very good for proliferating information at the level of technique, for a particular set of learners with a given set of existing knowledge, skills, and habits of mind (not the least of which being self-discipline). I can find endless MOOCs, Articles, Videos, GIFs, Homework samples, etc… which will detail a relatively consistent list of standard CSci data structures and algorithms (i.e. Arrays, Heaps, … Binary search, Bubble sort, etc.)
However, there are 3 big problems:
1. As of now, there is no standard, scalable assessment of the learner’s capabilities and understanding feeding back into the courseware. The Force Concept Inventory (FCI), Bennett Test (for mechanical intuition), et. al are reasonable approximations to assessment of understanding for their particular domains (though narrow). But the question remains… what do you serve up as a recommendation based on the results of the FCI? There are a LOT more data points needed on the learner’s existing knowledge and skills… and the content, sequence, and quality of presentation of the available courses, videos, articles, etc. I.e. We need to matchmake between people and learning materials, but we don’t appear to have the models for doing so. The result is that we simply presume a fairly uniform student body… and that produces the conditions of problem #2 — Learning-as-job.
Aside: A couple quick hypotheses re: this apparent dearth in data…
(1a) The institutions which are potentially capable of capturing the necessary data simply have elected not to implement assessment of understanding and haven’t been able to apply the data from their existing, almost entirely “quiz-style” approaches into practical use (Udemy, Coursera, Khanacademy, Udacity, and of course Knewton, etc.) — Remarkably, even the wide spread of mobile apps for language learning: DuoLingo, MemRise, Drops, BeeLingua… seem to generate zero insight into what you understand, only which quiz questions you’ve gotten right or wrong and thus which ones you need to continue working on. You are left to draw your own conclusions as to why — and whether it matters.
(1b) The data collection approaches are simply too complex to conceive of using present computing technologies. I.e. A valid assessment of understanding for learners of infinitely-varied (and largely unknown) backgrounds requires a lot of “hand-crafting”, rendering it an exercise in futility. A lot of work for little reward, and thus apparently easier to simply train humans for the task, particularly given we already have an existing infrastructure for employing humans in the task. There’s some evidence of this in the records of DoD contracts for development of a computer-based tutor for Navy IT personnel. Despite the reports of apparent superhuman success, the exercise took several multi-million dollar contracts to develop even one such tutor program for a particular class of learner, and a highly-specific domain area. And it’s also not clear if the technology is competitive in a more longitudinal study, particularly in comparison to expert teachers.
2. Learning-as-job (i.e. Pay attention because this will be on the test) is fundamentally ineffective and will naturally give way to entertainment, mischief, and (in the best of cases) more pleasurable learning activities. Achievement goes up with the square of learner’s Attentiveness. I.e. With even reasonably high levels of attention (incl. note-taking) during a lecture, you may still accomplish very little — pick up a few prominent facts and prominent storyline elements (hence why story is a particularly effective channel for conveying ideas). Insight, however, only comes through reflection, examination, and the effortful attempt to make well-founded assertions and ask the poignant questions. The PhD dissertation is the culmination of such effortful learning activity in a given domain.
This is an issue with children’s MOOCs especially, like Renaissance’s Achieve3000 (which produces a daily set of Current Event and subject matter articles, written at multiple Reading Levels for differentiated instruction based on learner’s present reading level).  They are destined to occupy the low-attentiveness regime for most learners — except those who are already capable of self-governance and can likely identify which reading materials are suitable for them.
Machines as yet can only engage the human mind through carefully produced storylines (crafted, of course, by humans) in movies and games. And there are shining lights in both genres. Euclidea, for example, is a mobile app for uncovering geometric principles from their elementary origins following a sequence of progressively advancing puzzles. However, again, this app was not built for children… It is VERY difficult to build a universally-accessible learning instrument.  At a very minimum, you will presently require a human to guide you between the various learning technologies — though they will likely need to fill in other gaps along the way. And movies, of course, are not interactive, though they can move a person to reflection, if done properly — and if the viewer’s cognitive & social environment supports it. VR has the potential to produce its own share of shining lights — but again, I do not expect it will “revolutionize” learning due to the same scaling limitations as with the other genres. Screen-based video-gaming is sufficiently immersive to keep people playing for 12+hrs without break.. I don’t think the immersiveness is the problem.
3. The economic pathway and social and political will for development of better teaching technologies is, in my view, troubled. Public education as an investment by the nation into the capabilities of its next generation likely sounds, to modern ears, like an antiquated value and probably one made up in a 1984-esque “rewriting history” exercise — “back in the day, we used to be better people…”  And it’s even less practical to a generation of anti-aging enthusiasts (hey, I’m one of them — I agree with Harari in his intro to Homo Deus… aging is a technical problem — complex, but solvable with better models and technologies) with a historically low fertility rate.  Why should we make our lives harder on behalf of this upcoming generation? Given we haven’t stopped death by aging, we can all plan to be gone in roughly 100 years, so it’s a crazy question to be asking.  But obviously we have a history of mortgaging the future on behalf of the present.
The parameters of the best-case solution for my kids are as follows:
1. Expert Teacher with the objective to cultivate, from the outset, domain expertise — Not to entertain or to occupy the child with activities. Rather, this would be a carefully-designed course of study, intended to result in mastery of the domain, beginning with first exposure to the domain at a young age. The child must, from the very beginning of a dedicated learning effort, understand that he or she is doing something very important — different from other things. Kids can readily begin to make that distinction if they are trained to do so early, and they will then have the capacity to employ their highest attention to the learning task. And under high-engagement conditions, children learn quickly and almost effortlessly. Many parents make a critical error of omission early in the child’s development by not cultivating a ritual for activating a child’s command of their own attention. Montessori, of course, used the 2’x3′ rectangular mat as a standard cue.
NOTE: I’ve included a few indicators for recognizing an expert teacher in contrast to an average teacher in the bullets below.
2. Non-school-building learning environment: Learners should not be subjected to extended isolation from the subject matter “in the wild”, particularly in the company of largely disengaged peers. Would you study flower anatomy without a garden? Would you find it easier to seek deep insight if the other members of your social fabric (peers are an unavoidably significant recipient of the brain’s allocation of attention) were chiefly concerned with the flower’s utility as an aid in a game of “He loves me not”? Our ongoing attachment to the practice of shuttling people in and out of the confines of a school building for a daily dose of “regression to the mean” suggests the architects of the system must prize above all else (including development of expertise) the logistical benefits of an aggregated population. Co-location would be limited only to those circumstances necessitating physical propinquity, and simulated environments would be used as a precursor to an analogous activity in the wild. Other activities can be done remotely, for which data-transmission technologies are already reasonably well-suited.
3. From youth, develop an expanding skill set to provide services to an expanding circle of influence. The best way to consolidate understanding of concepts is to attempt to deploy them within a design. Children who rush out to newly-fallen snow to build snow forts and snowmen are often flummoxed when the snow simply won’t hold together. “How does anyone ever make a snowman?” the child wonders.
Naturally, playing outdoors affords endless opportunities to “try and see”, and it’s a critical component of human development from start to finish. I.e. You never stop benefiting from playing outdoors.
However, while “try and see” will not produce expertise. With that objective, the only way a child will be afforded the opportunity to instantiate a design on a real-world system is under the conditions of a labor exchange. I.e. The child removes some part of the total labor for a particular job so the expert practitioner can allocate time and energy to training you and providing feedback. Participation with real people in a task of real importance creates an inarguable need for more complete conceptual models, better-honed skills, and more effective execution. This, of course, is the standard apprenticeship model.
This is harder and harder to do as the jobs which previously would have been performed by the novices are now performed by machines. That means the child must have more (but not inordinately so, depending on the context) background capabilities to provide useful service in the real-world. Reading, Writing, and basic Arithmetic are certainly in the set of prerequisites, as communication of instructions will often be in text form.
4. Cultivate a circle of peers from early on — and build friendships with work capacity. An “immune system” of buddies who can help you out when you need it. Preferably, each member of the team would be cultivating a unique specialization. The peer group then becomes yet another venue for consolidation of understanding, in which the teacher is absent and the child must employ his or her knowledge and skills under different, more difficult circumstances — but not entirely alone.
5. Hybridization as the answer to Breadth vs Depth. The idea is to learn to pair skill sets both within a single individual and between individuals. This is actually one area about which I haven’t seen much written. There’s plenty on the concept of transfer and analogy, of course, but less on the intentional design of a hybridized expertise. Instead, any hybrid becomes its own thing. Like the Biologist who also studies and manipulates computational models and data. That’s now called Computational Biology. The question, of course, is whether either domain is receiving sufficient attention. A hybridized learning model would sequence learning operations with transfer from one domain to the other as the pedagogical objective — rather than treading the bisecting line between the two vectors.
Hybridization is the holy grail for project-based learning schools — The whole idea of the project is that it has to check many boxes to be sufficiently satisfying to all stakeholders that the child won’t be hindered from ivy league aspirations by this alternative track. Again… presently, we rely heavily on the attributes of the Expert Teacher.
As promised in #1 above, here are a few indicators of an Expert Teacher…
1. They tend to (at times frustratingly) emphasize things that initially seem irrelevant or unnecessary — but which will shortly prove essential. And they de-emphasize those things which appear critical or have risen to popular prominence but are, in fact, irrelevant or even harmful.
In seconds to minutes, an expert teacher can assess the developmental stage of an individual in a particular skill domain and impart to them a key to unlock new insight and growth. Alone, or under lesser tutelage, the beginner might have sought this key indefinitely, without substantive progress — the beginner may see the key right in front of him but will not know its worth nor how to fit it to the lock.
In contrast, average teachers tend to follow an all-inclusive course of study — and just as well, as deviations from that course tend to decrease clarity.
This average teacher may be an enthusiastic youth (new undergrad or grad student), still seeing the many exciting elements of their domain of study for the first time, ready to spill out their insights en masse. These individuals will typically narrow in on the more resonant pupils, who are intrigued by, and able to follow, the scattershot of concepts and ideas. This is a useful and invigorating relationship for a more advanced pupil to cultivate. However, you would not rely on the “enthusiastic youth” to instruct a child from their early stages. The enthusiasm will soon wear off in the face of the much slower pace of an early learner.
Another average teacher is the long-time practitioner who has limited their excursions into the either one or both of their required domain areas. Typically because they themselves did not receive adequate tutelage in the subject matter and they never adapted an autodidactic approach. Average teachers of this sort will typically de-emphasize the cultivation of expertise, as it is a perpetually unsettling enterprise. They will instead promote the social aspects of the “teacher-pupil” relationship, as a proxy metric for success in the teaching profession. E.g. “I love to see smiling faces.” These individuals do have the potential to do their pupils good as a “caring adult”, but they will likely also do harm by operating the course “by the book” with minimal engagement and minimal insight — possibly forever casting for those students an impression of the domain as dull and lifeless.
The enthusiastic youth produces outcomes of high-variance — i.e. Some students are highly engaged while others are entirely put off. The long-time non-expert technician produces outcomes of low-variance, but low-accomplishment, and possibly attenuated ongoing interest. The expert, on the other hand, will see most students out of the course with a set of well-consolidated foundational concepts — and there will often be a few miracle students: Either very high achievers or previously low-achievers with remarkable leaps into high-achievement.
2. Expert-level teachers typically think and teach at the method-level vs technique-level. You’ll hear them continuously relating new concepts to old via accessible analogies, illustrating concepts with insightful imagery, and turning concepts over to look at them entirely differently than a beginner could imagine.
In contrast, average teachers typically have yet to consolidate the system of ideas that compose a discipline and navigate it ponderously and haltingly. The human mind requires incubation time to consolidate ideas, and typically the average teachers have not had sufficient incubation time. Either because they are young or because they have primarily been technicians of the teaching trade, purveying roughly the same courses for the extant of their career, without ongoing development of their teaching practice and the domain under study.
3. Expert-level teachers take the long view and are typically unmoved by fads. This can be their undoing, of course — fads are not always, in fact, fads. However, they will make far fewer missteps by avoiding fads than they will by embracing them. Thus, you will typically find the expert referencing older ideas and referring to the lessons learned from their own mentors. This approach is very good for the arts and humanities, as their heydays are typically in the past. This is also true for the older maths. Geometry still looks back to Archimedes for its most compelling storylines. In areas like physics, we still begin with Newtonian laws, as they are suitable for simple applications. And even Einstein’s relativity is looking relatively old. 🙂
Expert-level teachers will face a great challenge in operating solo in the younger disciplines, where their expertise is both a guide and a hindrance. This is where a cooperative teaching effort is best — pairing the enthusiasm, insatiable curiosity, and supple thinking of the young with the wisdom and pattern-recognition of the expert. And as with all cooperative efforts, there will be a standard forming, storming, norming, and performing sequence — thus, they can’t expect to do much profitable work together in the first 2-3 years. However, in their 4th year, they’ll likely be prepared to generate a remarkable contribution to their field.

Post-disaster reconstruction (i.e. Puerto Rico), Simulations, AI, and the Future of Humanity

Image Credit: Tesla

Reference Link Business Insider: Puerto Rico is taking a big step toward revamping how it gets power — and it could be a model for the rest of the US

Reconstruction after disaster as a primary driver for investment into infrastructure makes some sense. Basically it’s the “wait and see” approach to governance. And there’s some merit to it.

Oftentimes, ostensibly well-intended interventions are unsuccessful or produce net negative results. Classic example is the cane toad exported from the Americas to Eastern Australia to eat the beetles which were then feeding on sugarcane crops. Turned out, of course, cane toads secrete a compound in their skin which is deadly to all its predators, and its population could not be controlled.

Plenty of other examples of such interventions with similarly disastrous “unintended consequences”.

After a natural disaster like a hurricane, however, it’s harder to make things worse than they already are — so you have a lot more freedom to get things wrong without public outcry. I.e. Human-made disasters are more readily forgiven when they are attempts at recovery from nature-made disasters.

A reasonable question follows: Under what conditions should we “wait and see” and under what conditions should we perform some intervention and risk incurring unintended consequences?

Presumably the answer to that question will change significantly if the software used to perform simulations of the intervention and its effects is improved.

Simulations are used to test structural models for bridges, tall buildings, tunnels, etc. However, simulation models are not necessarily available for many other contexts. Presumably, we should be investing in methods for devising simulation models, evolving simulation models, and ensuring they can be maintained and upgraded as computational infrastructure evolves.

Worth noting is that humans can design software with fixed rules that can be understood by human intelligence. That’s what keeps planes in the air, cellular signals bouncing around the atmosphere, electrical grids stable… It takes a lot of work, but over time humans can work out the details and build a really robust and functional system.

However, if we are to evolve our approaches, we must venture down either 1 of 2 paths…

1. We will either invent and deploy software which evolves its own (better) models of how the earth works (including the living organisms it hosts) by way of continuous experimentation (i.e. 24/7/365) and makes recommendations to inform global-scale human behaviors and resource allocation. Inevitably, humans will rely on the computer’s recommendations for several critical survival factors. The computer then holds human lives in the balance. And, by definition, the computers intentions will be inscrutable to the human intelligence — that’s precisely what it was designed for.

2. We will continue to approach the asymptotic limit of human capability, which would appear to be constrained not so much by the capacity for human intelligence but its deployability within human systems. I.e. Humans get in their own way. Inter-human interactions produce friction which often leads to a kind of thermal runaway… attention gets redirected from the “problem to solve” to the “problem solvers” themselves.

Naturally, the aim is to walk a middle ground — Safe AI. Kind of a crazy idea. I’ve thought of it previously as loosely akin to the Obi Wan to Anakin Skywalker situation. I.e. We know this kid will be very powerful, and he could be a great force for good.. or he could go to the dark side and wipe us all out. Yoda would say “don’t train the boy”. But we all know he’s going to get trained.

For my part, I have determined that all plausible future scenarios will benefit from a larger population of well-developed humans. The model of what constitutes a “well-developed human” is, of course, subject for debate. But there will be no future in which humanity will not benefit from widespread proliferation of wisdom, curiosity, ingenuity, enthusiasm, compassion, self-discipline, physical mastery, historical perspective, courage, and appreciation & respect for the flourishing of naturally-evolved life forms.

That last one may also be key to developing Safe AI. Somewhere along the line, AI must develop an appreciation and respect for the flourishing of naturally-evolved life forms. Just as a portion of humanity is deeply committed to the preservation of living fossils — like the 22 million year old tree lobster from Lord Howe Island, which was declared extinct a hundred years ago (same old story… habitat invaded by rats onboard intercontinental sailing ships), rediscovered on a nearby rock jutting out of the ocean, and brought back to life from a population of 24 members to now well over 10,000.

Basically, we have to build into AI an appreciation for the historical significance of naturally-evolved life, including humans. And statistically, we really shouldn’t plan for it to acquire that appreciation by our present or historical example.

Thought experiment: Design human development pathway from child to adult, sans existing mandatory checkpoints

I think it’s a worthwhile thought experiment to ask what is a suitable occupation for a child were there no mandatory schooling, no standardized tests, no college applications, and no career expectations.

Basically… how would you design a modern pathway of human development from childhood to adulthood from first principles without the existing infrastructure of mandatory checkpoints?

Here’s how I’d do it. And have done it, at least to age 5, with my 5yo, and same plan for current 3yo.

Big Picture:

1. Primary aim is to develop the capabilities and capacities* to be useful to other people whiile also cultivating deep insight into the human species — potential opportunities & failure modes. This stands to provide the greatest benefit to the individual, the species, and the entire Terran ecology.

*Defining terms: Capability is knowledge and skill, consolidated through guided and unguided practice. Capacity is the reliable execution of an operation under stress (due to fatigue, obstacles, relational dysfunction, etc).

2. Begin to accomplish #1 by first making the child useful within the context of his or her own household.

3. Expand capacity to bear stress via physical exercise. I.e. Train the mind by training the body.

4. Front-load narrow and deep experience by progressively releasing more and more of the responsibilities of household management to the child — including repairs and upgrades of existing infrastructure elements.

5. Gradually expand the child’s influence and experience out of the household into the local community, business, and government.

6. Specialize capabilities into a “trade” — i.e. Some mechanism the child can toggle when needed to convert time into money.

7. Cultivate many capabilities in parallel and discuss ideas at the intersections of domains — i.e. While learning carpentry, also practice piano, and read Moby Dick. Do the thing that is interesting until consolidation and reflection become necessary.. then switch to another thing.

8. Build a service-oriented peer group. The purpose here is to form a normalized view of social interactions as a constructive enterprise. Avoid forming views of peer-group social interactions as being intensely competitive, demeaning, or draining (a la Lord of the Flies). Instead construct visions of social interactions as honorable, compassionate, and deeply fulfilling.

Some additional detail:

Note: Some elements of the below sequence may resemble existing “best practice” suggestions for parents. Bear in mind that, true to the premise of the thought experiment, I have not included them due to their existing prominence. They are merely a natural result of the derivation exercise.

1. (age 0-3) Child’s first dedicated learning tasks are specific procedures for taking care of him/herself. I.e. You (child) dress yourself, take yourself to the bathroom, keep yourself clean, bus your own meal dishes, put yourself to sleep, communicate clearly to make requests (signs –> sounds –> words –> sentences), etc. Child is responsible for following simple rules for self-management (e.g. if under duress, take a deep breath).

2. (age 3-4) Child begins contributing to the smooth operation of the household. E.g. First step for our kids was to learn to make everyone’s breakfast (also serving mom and dad) — pretty simple: eggs and oatmeal. Then they advanced to sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, cleaning countertops, etc. Child is responsible for following simple rules to maintain interpersonal harmony (e.g. no demands, only requests; avoid pushing/pulling/hitting in favor of clear verbal communication)

3. (age 4-6) Child begins bearing independent responsibility for particular household tasks, like washing clothes, preparing a portion of dinner meals, etc.

At this point, tasks become sufficiently complex as to require multi-step written instructions. Thus, the child must learn to read. Similarly, they must often interpret and measure out quantities of things. Thus, they must understand what those numerical symbols represent, as well as the operators that often appear between them.

4. (age 2-4) In preparation for item 3, it is sensible to read often to children to begin familiarizing them with the alphabetic symbols and rules for interpreting them. Making sense of written symbols at a practical rate takes multiple years of practice and consolidation. Explicit instruction of the rules for converting symbols to sounds is suggested, but we’ve kept it relatively light.

5. (age 2-5) A gradual evolution of how a child amuses him/herself also occurs during this time. In our case, the child frequently constructs imaginary roles and scenarios and relies heavily on social interaction. Self-amusement is reliant on personal capability — it’s not fun if you’re no good at it — so training is still required in many cases. E.g. Reading simple storybooks, throwing/catching/kicking a ball, tumbling/gymnastics/wrestling, board/card/yard games, etc.

6. (age 2-5) The child’s awareness and understanding of the external world evolves during this time and is strongly impressionable. At this point, whatever is conveyed to the child about how the world works, they will accept as their worldview. I postulate it is likely best at this stage for the child to be immersed in the natural world, as it is the best teacher of how the world works. You cannot escape formation of intuitive models of how the world works if you have a vast array of coherent experiences in the natural world.

Worth noting is that we have met this need primarily through outdoor excursions in the summer months and video during the winter months. The videos consist of Planet Earth-esque views of exotic ecologies, as well as lectures about interesting applications of math, imagery from the hubble telescope, and other fascinating views into the world.

AGE 5-6 CHECKPOINT: The child now bears sufficient skill to operate their daily household tasks almost entirely unaided: self-grooming, meal preparation & cleanup, interpersonal relationships with siblings and adults, self-amusement, sleep schedule, etc. The only exceptions are those physical skills which have not been adapted to smaller hands and shorter legs and which have no requisite tooling (like stools). The child also has a working intuition for how the world works, which can serve to “fill in the blanks” when presented with new situations in future. The child may thus now begin to design select parts of their living environment and schedule.

5. (age 5-6) The child is reading sufficiently well to interpret multi-step instructions. Writing now becomes the primary focus — and elegant, fluid handwriting requires practice too. Writing proves very useful for producing letters of gratitude for various adults who have made their mark on the child’s life. Also enjoyable is penpal correspondence between cousins or friends in different locales. Touch typing is also a worthy skill to practice, given the predominance of digital communication channels. Freyda has recently (as of this month) begun her first excursion into web publishing at

6. (age 5-6) The child now begins to envision particular accomplishments in specific domain areas of interest, guided by a mentoring adult with experience or transferable knowledge in the particular domain areas. The child and the mentor discuss skill checkpoints and accomplishments into those particular domain areas. Near-term goals are agreed-upon, and the child and mentor schedule particular operations to achieve those checkpoints. E.g. Freyda has determined she would like to construct a modern health diagnostic kit, including wearables and smart appliances which log data for later time series analysis.

As my oldest child is 5yo, this is now where my experience gives way to speculation. That said, this is also the tipping point into the actually meaningful part of the thought experiment — the age a child would typically enter Kindergarten. I’ll shift into broader age ranges to navigate these more speculative waters.

7. (age 6-7) The child achieves first real accomplishments. I.e. Demonstrated competency beyond mere routine household operations. Done properly, the child would have experienced a narrow and deep learning operation and will have generated an artifact which serves their purposes and makes their future action more effective. In Frey’s case, she will be able to assess her own health markers and be running nutrition and exercise experiments in the background while she sails on to her next port of call.

8. (age 6-9) The child will be gradually introduced to roles in the larger human society, starting with local community, local government, and local business.

9. (age 7-9) The child will at this point be capable of reading, contemplating, and discussing the particularly important questions about life, under careful mentorship. The child will be afforded the best works of fiction and nonfiction. I.e. The miracles of literature.

10. (age 8-10) The child primarily focuses on developing skills which enable development of reputation and standing within the community and the development of a group of peers with similar objectives and outlook. When the child is not serving in the household, he/she is serving in the community. From here, naturally, the child can begin to observe the human needs in the community and, under guidance, attempt to devise solutions to address those needs. This will be a natural extension of activities from earlier ages.

11. (age 7-10) Meanwhile, capability growth has simply become a habituated activity. I.e. When not serving the household or community, the child is developing knowledge and skill to improve his or her service capabilities. Again, a mentor guides the child, according to prior experience, predilections, aptitudes, and interests.

12. (age 10-12) At this point, the child is ready for apprenticeship in a skilled trade, e.g. Carpentry. Ongoing study and service within a peer group carry on in parallel.

13. (age 13-15) Journeyman-level capability in a skilled trade. The primary merits of the skilled trade is the front-loading of experience in applying mental models to achieve desired outcomes. Thus, the actual trade in question need not be particularly selective. Though it is best if it is not a loosely-governed wild west type environment. The child must learn rules and apply them insightfully in order to please a set of constraints. Also, the child is learning how to operate as a valued member of society.

14. (age 16) The child is ready for multiple possible routes of ongoing cultivation: Mastery of a trade, Mediated study of a knowledge domain under a mentor (kind of like graduate studies), or Development of a business, product, or technological innovation to contribute to the marketplace (also under mentorship).

The thought experiment has only begun, but I must resume later.

Many more things deserve to be included in the above, e.g…

1. I have found the development of physical fitness at a young age to be extremely useful under many circumstances. Basically, conditioning the mind and body to successfully endure extended periods of stress (eustress) makes every other thing easier to do, effectively increasing the child’s capacity for capability growth.

2. Sleep schedules have been solidified into habit and the kids are nearly always well-rested. Again, this makes everything easier because the child is nearly always able to self-manage. Fatigue leads to higher frequency of destructive behavior which, if allowed to become routine, will unavoidably cap the child’s capabilities. If the child simply never develops destructive habits, that’s one less obstacle to overcome.

3. Additional languages are best acquired under immersion conditions. However, this may be said for most skills/disciplines — performing & visual arts, sport, scientific research, etc. Contrived learning environments have a much narrower area of validity than would be presumed given their prevalence.

4. I’ve mentioned only briefly and sparsely the role of peers. Development of peer relationships is, however, a very significant design component, which I will re-visit later.

A superintelligence wouldn’t “take over” in a way that is sensible to human intelligence

In Max Tegmark’s book Life 3.0, the sentient AI raises capital by creating a media company and then commercializing inventions, which gradually overtake those of human-run companies and come to dominate the marketplace.

That approach sounds too much like a human trying to imagine the best ideas of a superintelligence. Like someone trying to imagine the supercars of the future in the age of the steam engine.

Seems to me that creating a bunch of new currencies with ready exchange to USD, blowing up a quick bubble of demand, and then cashing out at the peak would be a lot more the type of operation you’d expect from a superintelligence.

I’m not making any serious suppositions here — but it did strike me as an interesting interpretation of recent events.

The primary reason I don’t think this is a reasonable explanation is that it took too long for BTC to become an overnight success — almost 10 years. Presumably way too long for a sentient superintelligence.

Then again, the best approach for predicting the behaviors of superintelligence may be to assemble a list of your best hypotheses and then cross them all out. Because if you could come up with it, the superintelligence already ruled it out.

This is the kind of stuff I will remember when my kids are grown.

The little trucks that get parked in my office. Then they’re rediscovered later like they’re Atlantis. There are so many opportunities for joy when you’re so forgetful.

Really, fathering is a gold mine for small, memorable moments. Like when your boy wakes suddenly in inconsolable distress, gagging on his own concern, unable to speak… because he has to go wee.

A single day as a father can fill an A4 sheet with memorable moments.

Everyone seems to appreciate the “little things” more as they get older. I think that may be because as you experience the world you inevitably begin to better understand how little of a thing you are – and that things needn’t be grand to be meaningful. This little truck thing right here between me and my boy is so uniquely “our” little thing. Heck, it’s pretty much my thing – he won’t even remember the truck is here until he spots it tomorrow morning. But the fact I know that about my son.. and I can watch him in my mind carefully parking his truck underneath the piano and then entirely forgetting about it moments after. Well, let’s just say my brain is equipped to make a whole lot of meaning out of that vivid image of a little human I’m so deeply devoted to – despite how little a thing this truck event adds up to be.

It seems you come to love and devote yourself to your child the same way as anything else. Put enough time and dedicated effort into anything and you get to know it really well, such that you pass a threshold where it becomes intensely interesting at a personally meaningful level. And I think this can certainly happen with animals too, i.e. pets.

As an engineer & technologist, I have conceptual access to the most interesting tools and systems humans have created so far… Living things are much more interesting. Many more ways they can permutate. Particularly if you seed their minds with curiosity, ideas, and empathy and their bodies with graceful strength and skill.

Insight often does emerge indirectly. Study technology to better appreciate humans. Experience the big to appreciate the small.

I suppose this indirect approach to insight and wisdom may be the primary accomplishment of Confucius and eastern meditation in general.

Another, to close…Write your thoughts to teach yourself.

Leaders seem to be in the business of making promises

Parents continuously make promises to their children… “Follow my instructions and things will be better for you.”

CEOs make promises to their employees… “If we operate this way, we will all make money.” Salespeople to customers… Nonprofit directors to donors…

Leaders seem to be in the business of making promises.

Interestingly, if you’re not making any promises (or if nobody is interested in your promises), you’re not a leader.

It would appear, then, that leaders must concern themselves primarily with the promises they will make, to whom, how the promises will be fulfilled, and how to structure the promise statements with precision where possible and ambiguity as needed to accommodate changing information and circumstances.

In this model, exemplar leaders promise enticing things and consistently deliver on their promises — as stated, and as interpreted.

To Machiavelli’s point, it would appear that the majority of emphasis is on the ends (i.e. fulfilled promise). And that the ends will tend to justify the means. Under conditions of information saturation, exposition of the means (lengthy) must compete with revelation of the ends (immediate). Exposition will not beat revelation without significant effort.

All very interesting…

The leader continuously invents compelling domain language for the organization

More and more I find the role of the leader is to discover or synthesize simple, descriptive — immediately understandable — terms and phrases to weave critical concepts into the fabric of the organization’s speech.

A couple of today’s syntheses:
1. Encode encyclopedic knowledge, big ideas, and essential questions for later rediscovery — via contextualized concept images.
2. Avoid provinciality of thinking, in space & time, large & small scale.

The phrases should be concise, precise, and descriptive. They are initially explained within a rich context, and then they serve as bookmarks in that context for later reference. The above are imperatives. They may also be declarative or rhetorically interrogative.

As time goes on, the phrases will be continuously recontextualized to serve ever-new purposes. Some phrases may die in place (perhaps mounted to the wall) — either because they could not be recontextualized (probably because they’re ambiguous) or no effort was made to do so. Others will be misinterpreted by those who were not present for the original instantiation and have not yet been initiated. Or the phrases may ultimately be deliberately reinterpreted based on new knowledge or ulterior motives.

Some phrases can be recontextualized indefinitely, despite changes in weather, mood, fashion, politics, or technology. They represent enduring understandings well-stated.

Enchantment as solace for the human mind

I was thinking there may be only 2 realms of solace for the human mind: Enchantment or Entertainment. But I think there’s a third: Work at which you are expert, or in which you can feel yourself actively improving toward expertise.

Basically, there are states of mind that provide relief from the stress induced by mean and mundane activities. Mean being low, wicked, or brutish. Mundane being tedious, repetitive, and often mandatory.

Entertainment is basically just stimulation of the release of “happy” chemicals in the brain: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins — achieved primarily through sequences of anticipation and fulfillment, e.g. Joke lead-up and punchline. Entertainment borders on, or even achieves, Enchantment when the anticipation or its fulfillment is emotionally arresting.

There feasibly may be more categories of manifestation of Enchantment, but this set of 3 seemed to be pretty inclusive:

Awe – overwhelmed by beauty/greatness (e.g. Mountaintop)
Gratitude – overwhelmed by goodness (e.g. Act of kindness)
Camaraderie – overwhelmed by oneness (e.g. Team victory)

The effect, of course, is that you become transfixed in the present moment with a personal attachment to the source of the emotional arrest.

The kind of enchantment that seems to make a person particularly industrious is that of an envisioned future. And while it may seem that an enchanting future must invariably be observed through rose-tinted glasses, I actually think the engineer has a different opportunity. The engineer can not only imagine the future, but can conceive and design the transitional states.

There are other kinds of enchantment that do other kinds of work. Enchantment with natural ecosystems of plants, animals, and terrain often generate higher-order affections toward the earth and its inhabitants.

Enchantment with individual people often generates an enthusiasm for that person’s well-being and happiness.

And both of these can lead to selfless, generous behavior.

Really, the healthiest mind is probably one which cultivates many sources of enchantment, such that when one falls away, another can readily take its place.

Because when enchantment falls away, all that can replace it are basically mood-altering drugs — like sugar, television, or alcohol, etc.

All that said, doing work for which you are well-suited (capabilities match skills) enables the state of smooth, masterful operation called Flow. In some ways, Flow is the highest solace for the mind, because you actually produce your own enchantment. The thing you are connecting with is you.

And by sorting this out (for myself, anyway), I think I just did what I was talking about. Yeah, and I liked it — it’s exhilarating. Like an adventure sport.