The Great Debates

I’m currently still trying to decide what I should even post here. I tend to post more personal stuff on Facebook and to a lesser extent on Twitter, but my fiancee thinks it might be unwise to publish personal details on a public facing blog like this one.

Possibly I could focus more on professionally relevant ideas, but I’m not sure what I can offer in that regard. Anything really worth publishing should probably go into a proper paper rather than some random blog on the Internets. I suppose I could write opinions about philosophical things, but that overlaps with the Pax Scientia wiki that I was working on building earlier.

I probably have too many of these projects that don’t get enough attention anyway. I’ve been trying to consolidate them recently, but I worry that the resulting web presence is still far too sprawling and even less clear to navigate without the delineations.

Another debate I’ve been having recently is whether to put more effort into my creative writing. I want to eventually write a novel. It’s a vague goal I’ve had since I was a kid. I have lots of ideas for stories, but I’ve always had trouble actually getting down to writing the ideas down into actual narratives. Sometimes I wonder if I actually have the writing ability to justify the effort, whether it makes sense to add yet another piece of literature to the ever expanding pile of books in the world.

I spent a long time working out in my head the worlds that I want to write about. In some sense, if I don’t write, it’ll have been a waste. But I’m not sure my imagination is that much more extraordinary enough to justify the effort in the first place.

I also claim to be a music composer and a game designer, the other two arts that I have some capacity in. To what extent would those be more appropriate uses of my time? To what extent is writing more worthwhile than composing songs for instance? I can hash out a song somewhat faster than a novel, but I also as yet don’t consider my songs to be particularly notable either.

My thoughts on why writing was my first choice in terms of artistic expression were originally and ostensibly because writing allows me to communicate ideas rather than just emotions like with music. And writing can be done on my own, rather than needing an artist and a team for game development. Admittedly, the creator of Stardew Valley did it on his own, but I don’t have the visual art skills for that, and I don’t see myself having the patience to become good at drawing at this point.

In another debate, I’ve also been considering a change of career path. Working in machine learning has been exciting and lucrative, but the market now seems increasingly saturated as the most competent folks in the world recognized the hype and adjusted their trajectories to compete with mine. Whereas a few years ago I was one of maybe a couple hundred, now there seem like thousands of people with PhDs who outclass me.

At the same time, I’ve wondered about whether or not the A.I. Alignment problem, the existential risk of which has been the focus of several books by prominent philosophers and computer scientists, isn’t a more important problem that needs more people working on it. So I’ve wondered if I should try switching into this field.

Admittedly, this field seems to be still in its infancy. There’s a bunch of papers looking at defining terms and building theoretical frameworks, and little in the way of even basic toy problems that can be coded and tested. I’m personally more of an experimentalist than a theoretician when it comes to AI and ML, mostly because my mathematical acumen is somewhat lackluster, so I’m not sure how much I can help push forward the field anyway.

On a more philosophical note, it seems the social media filter bubble has been pushing me more to the left politically. At least, I find myself debating online with Marxists about things and becoming more sympathetic to socialism, even though a couple years ago I was a moderate liberal. I’m not sure how much to blame the polarization of social media, and how much it’s the reality of disillusionment with the existing world, or the jarring comparison between my fiancee’s home country (China) and Trump’s America, such as the handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

I also have mixed feelings in part because the last company I worked for was Huawei, which according to western media outlets is some kind of scary Chinese trojan horse, but which to me was the company that gave me a chance to work on some really cool things and paid me handsomely for my time and energy. Admittedly, as a Canadian citizen working in an R&D lab of the Canadian subsidiary, I wouldn’t have been privy to anything untoward that could have been happening in secret, but it was always jarring to see the news articles that attacked the company without really providing actual evidence to support their allegations.

I left Huawei more for personal reasons, partly some issues of office politics that I wasn’t particularly good at dealing with, and don’t see the company as the boogeyman that the media seems to consider it. My own criticisms of the company culture would be much more nuanced, aware that any major corporation has its internal issues, and that many of them are general concerns of large tech companies.

Nevertheless, the question of loyalties arises when I think about things like this. My moral philosophy is utilitarianism, so I consider my ultimate loyalty to be towards the greatest good. I dislike the notion that I should have to choose between my ethnic heritage and my home country. This seems like a false dichotomy. Legally, I have obligations as a citizen, but as a human, I also have a duty to consider what is best for all, and ideally these should not conflict.

The debates in my head are somewhat bothersome to be honest. But at the same time, it means I’m thinking about things, and open to updating my understanding of the truth according to new evidence, factored with my prior knowledge.

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