AI-7: The Lords of AI

Here’s a brief look at three of the most important men in AI. They all know each other. Two of them, Thiel and Musk, are key members of the so-called “Paypal Mafia”; they both grew up in apartheid South Africa. In these remarks, I want to bring forward enough evidence from their lives so that we can meaningfully ask ourselves whether they are men we can trust.

sam altman

Annie Altman, sister of Sam, describes how he began molesting her when she was four years old and he was thirteen. She speaks of how the pattern of abuse continued through adulthood, resulting in long term distress. Annie began to break down after their father died prematurely at 67, because, Annie says, his millionaire son didn’t give him money for medical treatment. The full story makes for highly distressing reading, so I will spare you the details. (Note that Annie herself has repeatedly linked to this compilation of her postings, so it should be reasonably accurate from her perspective.) Her twitter account and writings are funny and insightful, and I hope she’s doing okay.

Sam Altman has not commented on his sister’s statements. But one thing he said really struck me. In a New Yorker article, he said:

When someone examines a photo and says, ‘Oh, he’s feeling this and this and this’, all these subtle emotions, I look on with alien intrigue.

I can’t shake the feeling that he is peering and prodding at us with the same “alien intrigue” with which he used to touch his toddler sister. He speaks of a “missing circuit” in his brain, which, he says, “would make me care what people think about me”. He doesn’t see this for what it is, a missing dimension of humanity, an essential component of both compassion and moral shame. No, it is a “real gift” because it lets him take risks that make him look crazy. Teenagers are known for taking crazy risks, but they usually only endanger themselves; and they soon grow out of it. He’s a grown man, and he’s threatening all of us.

Should an adult be held accountable for their acts as a teenager? When those acts are molesting a toddler, hell yes. But it’s more than that. His sister’s testimony paints a disturbing picture of ongoing abuse, with no signs of acknowledgement or remorse. For what it’s worth, I believe her.

Reports of his “psychologically abusive” behavior at OpenAI, “pitting employees against each other in unhealthy ways”, are consistent with his sister’s story, as Annie herself points out in a moving essay.

On the other hand, there are those who eulogize Altman, and believe in his inherent goodness. In an oddly fawning conversation with Sam Altman, the meditation teacher Jack Kornfield called him a “servant leader” with a “pure heart”, telling him that he was not driven by ego because “central casting put you in this role”. I find it beyond strange that a Dhamma teacher should go out of their way to simply invent such a fable about one of the most powerful men in the world. How does Kornfield think business people get to the top? By manifesting good vibes?

So who’s account are we to believe? Having had one sister and knowing many gurus, I’d trust a sister over a guru any day. But don’t take it from me. There are many accounts from people who have worked with Altman, and you can judge whether they align more with Annie’s testimony or Jack’s.

One anonymous partner said:

He’s a megalomaniac. For the same reason I don’t trust Elon, I just don’t trust somebody whose aspirations are so clearly about themselves.

Databricks CEO Ali Ghodsi concurs:

He’s building the platform of Sam.

While another anonymous voice said:

There are holes a mile deep in this guy’s résumé, but he’s managed to figure out how to take his chess pieces and move them correctly.

Peter Graham, Altman’s former boss at Y Combinator, told New Yorker:

Sam is extremely good at becoming powerful.

Another colleague said:

Sam’s a little too focussed on glory—he puts his personal brand way out front.

These stories have followed him, reports the Washington Post, from his previous job at Y Combinator, where “Altman had developed a reputation for favoring personal priorities over official duties.” One person said:

It was the school of loose management that is all about prioritizing what’s in it for me.

George Irving, who worked with Altman for two years at OpenAI, said:

  1. He was always nice to me.
  2. He lied to me on various occasions
  3. He was deceptive, manipulative, and worse to others, including my close friends (again, only nice to me, for reasons)

These accounts paint a consistent picture of a power-hungry, manipulative narcissist. Others, to be sure, see Altman positively, and he has many loyal fans. But this is to be expected, as narcissists attract fanatical devotion.

Sorry Jack, I’m on Annie’s side here.

Like all of the Lords of AI, Altman believes, and invests in, any number of wacky ideas. He longs to be uploaded to the cloud. Like Peter Thiel, he’s a fan of rejuvenating bodies with the blood of the young. He buys into the primitive ethical thinking of the longtermists, arguing that we should spend almost all our time thinking about the distant future.

He’s actively planning to replace humans:

The idea would be to assemble thinkers in robotics, cybernetics, quantum computing, A.I., synthetic biology, genomics, and space travel, as well as philosophers, to discuss the technology and the ethics of human replacement.

This is not just a question of someone who committed heinous crimes as a teenager. It’s a question of whether we, as a human race, trust this man to shepherd us into the future. I don’t, nor should you.

Nonetheless, it must be admitted, he does display vision of a sort when he says:

movies are going to become video games and video games are going to become something unimaginably better

So that’s the world that he wants to live in.

peter thiel

Peter Thiel, co-founder of OpenAI with Musk and Altman, is sometimes said to be secretly the most important person in Silicon Valley. He’s an opponent of democracy, an authoritarian, indeed a barely disguised fascist.

In all the worst betrayals and scandals of the tech oligarchs, you’ll find him in the background, out of focus. He was a board member of Facebook during their massive scandals and data leaks in 2021, when it was revealed, among other things, that they had deliberately suppressed their own findings that their products are harmful, especially for teenage girls.

His own company is Palantir, a surveillance service for governments, police, and military, which is for some reason now entrusted with the health data of UK citizens. It is currently developing AI for autonomous weapons systems. When an armed drone has you in its sights, it’s Peter Thiel’s tech that will decide if you live or die.

He is, unsurprisingly, a climate denialist. That makes him a natural investor in Strive, an asset management company founded by the brahmin Vivek Ramaswamy—failed politician turned Trump sycophant—which is actively pursuing accelerated investment in oil and gas extraction, “helping maximize long-run profits over short-run social fads”. He mixes with the extreme right wing fanatics developing the Clearview AI facial recognition tech. Downplaying sexual assault, he wrote that “a multicultural rape charge may indicate nothing more than a belated regret”, adding that some rape charges are “seductions that are later regretted”.

Regarded as a leading intellectual of the extreme right, he opened a major speech at the National Conservatism Conference in 2021 by saying:

There are so many different things we could talk about, but perhaps the theme I want to start with is, ahh, some reflections on the ahh incredible derangement of, umm, of of of various forms of ahh thought, political life, scientific life, the sense-making machinery generally in this country over the last few years, and what we can perhaps do to, you know, to counteract this derangement with, you know, what can be done, with you know, what what ahh what must be done.

He is speaking not of the madness of Trump, which he helped unleash, but of what people like him call “wokeness” and what people like me call treating people with decency. It is critical to not pre-digest the addled thoughts of these people who purport to fix our “sense-making machinery”: they should stand or fall by what they say, not by a sanitized version of it. Oh and by the way, notice how he thinks of culture and human relationships as “machinery”.

His ramblings are of the same order as Trump’s and Musk’s. There’s a pattern with aging billionaire narcissists. They’ve been surrounded by people hanging on their every word for so long that they no longer need to discipline their thoughts in coherent sentences. They just lazily gesture at things, framing ideas just enough for their audience to fill them with their hate, while retaining plausible deniability.

Like so many of his ilk—Jordan Peterson comes to mind—Thiel wants to be the arbiter of what constitutes clear and rational thought, but his life has been a series of follies. For a long while he was into making independent nations at sea (“seasteading”) to escape governments, until he discovered there is a reason why people live on land. He supported Trump until he found out that what every sane person was saying all along was true. He defended apartheid. He backed loons advocating the overthrow of the government in favor of monarchy. He lamented extending the vote to women.

It’s honestly difficult to find an evil cliche he has not lived up to. He may or may not have been injecting the blood of the young to prolong his life, but he certainly stands against “the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual”. To that end, if the blood thing doesn’t work out, he’ll have his body frozen “as an ideological statement”. Honestly not sure what the statement is all about, but sure, but what else are you going to do with infinite money and infinite ego? The only problem is that you can’t take your money when you die, but don’t worry, the lawyers are already on the case. Presumably he’ll be revived in his apocalypse-proof bunker in New Zealand, perhaps along with his fellow prepper, Sam Altman.

Small men like Thiel are rambling messes of incoherence driven by resentment and narcissism. He deliberately flaunts nutty ideas to give the impression that he’s a grand and dangerous thinker, but they are, in the end, just nutty ideas.

elon musk

Elon Musk, once revered as a visionary innovator, bought Twitter and proceeded to ruin its business, make it a haven for extremist hate so he could hang out with Nazis and tweet an unending torrent of truly degenerate nonsense.

Musk positions himself as a free speech absolutist, who argues that anything legal should be allowed on social media. Like all free speech absolutists, he has enthusiastically silenced opposing voices, making particular use of the standard authoritarian technique of drowning voices of sanity in hate, bots, and bull. Even the minimal requirement of being “not a literal crime” turns out to be optional when it comes to platforming far right extremists. He is under investigation by the Brazilian Supreme Court after he re-enabled extremist accounts that had been suspended for promoting insurrection in Brazil. Musk’s response was to to call for the judge to be suspended or impeached.

As a man who was disowned by his trans daughter (“can’t win ’em all” he said, charmingly); who was sued by his ex Grimes for basic parental rights; who paid off an employee to shut up about sexual harassment; who paid the legal fees to prevent a disabled trans woman from using the bathroom; and who built a company with a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination, he is an outstanding illustration of the axiom that if you want to really know a man, listen to the women in his life.

Musk is consumed by grandiose fantasies as much as petty feuds. His longtermist philosophy lets him rationalize any degree of harm so long as he perceives it as getting him closer to his goals. Almost all the media coverage of Musk, focusing on the latest thing, ignores the actual aims of the would-be “Imperator of Mars”.

His businesses are built with the ultimate aim of colonizing the galaxy. In a podcast, he said that, “The threshold that really matters is getting past the Great Filter”. He suggests that either the galaxy is full of aliens, in which case they may well just wipe us out like a bug, or there are no aliens because civilizations destroy themselves, AKA the Great Filter. “On a galactic time-scale,” he said, “even with sublight travel, you could absolutely colonize the whole galaxy, even some of the neighbouring galaxies.” He wants to be the exterminator, not the bug.

His strategy, which has been astonishingly successful, is to build profitable businesses that each create some part necessary for space colonization. He has been saying this for decades, but whenever I mention it to people they think I’m making up some conspiracy theory. We really need to listen when these people tell us who they are and what they are doing.

His early ventures, Zip2 and PayPal, gave him startup cash. But the idea behind them was to build a decentralized financial system; in space, you’ll still need to pay your bills. The full realization of this idea, however, had to wait until the invention of Bitcoin. Musk’s chaotic relationship with crypto, which resulted in racketeering charges, is well known.

What is less well known is that the idea originated in the 1920s in a movement called Technocracy. They advocated for the valuation of goods by energy expended, which is basically what crypto does. The Technocrats were a bizarre fascist movement whose vision for currency was explicitly motivated by their belief, based on the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that the world financial system was controlled by Jews. One of the leading Technocrats was Joshua Haldeman, whose grandson is none other than Elon Musk. The driving ideology behind financial decentralization, set in motion by Musk’s grandfather, is antisemitism. It should come as no surprise, then, that Musk has indulged in what the White House called an “abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate”.

SpaceX has space colonization as its explicit company purpose, paving its way by launching satellites. He is using his existing satellite network to establish this, not just technically and financially, but legally. The terms for SpaceX’s Starlink internet service bind the user to the following:

For services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonisation spacecraft, the parties recognise Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities. Accordingly, disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.

I just wanted wi-fi, and now I’m having to sign up for a dictatorship on Mars?

Musk gets to just make up the rules for his new colony, and you’ve already signed away your rights. As a new settler on Mars, you are really not going to want to get in a legal dispute with the company who supplies every breath you take.

If you’re wondering who exactly gets to do the colonizing, perhaps the Musk fanboys at the Glorious SpaceX Masterrace subreddit will give you an clue.

Meanwhile, Tesla is developing the solar, battery, and other manufacturing necessities for building settlements on Mars. It would be a mistake to think of his electric vehicles as motivated by environmental concerns. Whatever modest reductions in CO2 emissions they might have brought about are a rounding error compared to the truly staggering scope of emissions that SpaceX aims to create in its reckless rush to Mars.

How bad will that be? Let’s do the math. In their 2020 impact report, Tesla claimed to have “avoided 5.0 million metric tons of CO2e emissions.” (CO2e is “carbon dioxide equivalent”, a way of calculating the global warming equivalent of all emissions.) A back-of-the-envelope calculation based on Musk’s projections for the Starship program yields the following.

  • Once production of Starships begins, they’ll build 100 per year, each of which will last a couple of decades, so in ten years there will be 1000 Starships.
  • Each Starship will launch 3 times a day (= 1000 times a year), making 1,000,000 flights per year for the whole fleet.
  • A Starship carries a 100 ton payload, resulting in 100 million tons launched to space every year. (As of 2023, humanity had launched to space probably less than 20,000 tons since the dawn of space travel.)
  • Each launch emits 76,000 tons of CO2e, for a total of 76 billion tons of CO2e every year. So that’s fifteen thousand times more CO2e every year than Tesla had avoided in total by 2020.

The emissions of the Starship fleet, in fact, would be much more than the entire 54 billion tons of CO2e globally emitted in 2022. And that’s not taking into account the many other environmental problems this will cause, which some say are even worse than the emissions.

Obviously I don’t believe Musk’s ridiculous projections, but I also don’t believe Tesla’s claimed CO2e savings, so that evens out. The point is not that he will achieve this, it’s that he thinks it’s a good thing to achieve and is actively building it. Anyway, even more modest achievements will have massive harms.

You have to understand: Musk and his fellow longtermists truly do not care if the entire planet is scorched to death, so long as humanity—by which they mean, the right part of humanity—has settled the stars.

Moving on, the otherwise inexplicable Boring Company is a technology testbed for drilling underground habitations on Mars. Similarly, the Cybertruck uses SpaceX steel to develop at scale the engineering and manufacturing capacity for exoskeleton design, perfect for structures in a vacuum. The Hyperloop proposal will never work on Earth, but that doesn’t matter, because it is meant for Mars. More distantly, xAI and Neuralink are steps towards uploading human consciousness to a computer, which avoids the problem of sending organic bodies between the stars. All you need is a hard drive and some DNA, and you can inseminate the universe.

In space, no-one can hear you scream. Which means you’ll need Twitter, or something like it if you want your screams to be heard. This was emphasized by the former Twitter owner Jack Dorsey, who left to create his new startup BlueSky (get it?) by saying, “Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.”

This kind of thinking ultimately stems from Russian Cosmists such as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the grandfather of space travel, who in 1911 said, “A planet is the cradle of mind, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.” Dorsey says that Twitter is “the closest thing we have to a global consciousness”. So what he means is that they’ll take Twitter (or BlueSky) to the stars. Not my idea of consciousness, but as I said, the AI field has no idea what consciousness is.

It is striking, incidentally, how much of Cosmist thought finds new life through Musk and his ilk. The Biocosmist-Immortalists, for example:

advocated the galactic liberation from statehood, called for the urgent establishment of cosmic communication, and made two basic demands: freedom of movement in interplanetary space; and the right to live forever.

All these are foundational principles among Silicon Valley types like Musk.

I do find it weirdly impressive how far Musk has gotten, considering he seems to run mostly on bulldust and vibes—and by “vibes” I mean “drugs”—rather than any coherent plan. But he really doesn’t think things through. The New York Times reports that Musk once met Demis Hassabis—founder of the pioneering DeepMind AI firm, whose initial investor was Peter Thiel—at SpaceX, where Musk talked about his plan to colonize Mars.

Dr. Hassabis replied that the plan would work—so long as superintelligent machines didn’t follow and destroy humanity on Mars, too. Mr. Musk was speechless. He hadn’t thought about that particular danger.

This single argument reveals the snake gnawing at the root of Musk’s vision. If we cannot tame ourselves here on earth, how will we do it in the vastly more brutal and demanding environment of space? In our new world, we will build nukes. We will exploit the environment. We will split into tribes. We will shoot our children. We will war. We will build entirely new means of destruction. Any tech, whether AI or biological or industrial, will destroy us there just as easily as here.

Musk’s obsession with colonization reveals his backwards and primitive thinking that has failed to escape his roots in apartheid and eugenics. His life implements the vision of his astonishingly racist and antisemitic grandfather, whose beliefs were so mad and extreme that he literally believed that Nazi Germany, Hitler himself, and even the idea of antisemitism were all Jewish plots. Haldeman didn’t just happen to end up in South Africa: he moved there because of apartheid. The influence of his grandfather is everywhere in Musk’s life, right down to details like using numbers for personal names.

Musk wants to play out the disastrous and racist policies of 17th century Europe on a grander scale. Like them, he assumes that men like him know best and get to decide. Rather than use his talents to help humanity do better here, he wants to leave us all to rot so that men like him get to rule everything forever.

I’m being too coy here. What do I mean by “men like him”? You don’t really have to read very far between the lines of Musk’s tweets to know the answer to that. For an immigrant, he sure does have a weird obssession with immigration.

His fanboys know very well what he means. Some of them openly argue that the colonizers of space should all be white people, because then there won’t be any conflict. Now, if you think that white people are going to get along with each other, you might want to read up on that little thing that I like to call “literally the entire history of Europe”. But that’s not really the point; the point is to understand what matters to them.

Musk’s glorious, destined future that will save mankind is a Nazi space empire.

In all this, Musk doesn’t really consider the one real question, the same question that ultimately brought down the colonizers of old and the apartheid of his homeland: what do we do with those who are already there?

It is truly astonishing how these people have been telling us for years exactly who they are, yet it is so outlandish, so crazy, that it just gets brushed aside.

Together with Microsoft, Sam Altman is planning a $100 billion data center called “Stargate”. They’re not subtle about what their inspirations are and where their aims lead. But that’s just the next step. He recently said that in order for AI to progress they will need to develop nuclear fusion power and raise $7 trillion to develop a new generation of AI chip.

The media reported these outlandish claims as if they were serious, discussing whether such goals were achievable. We all know that fusion has been just around the corner for decades, and no reasonable person is betting the future on its promises. Anyway, fusion is far from being an easy and free solution; any fusion generator would be extremely complex and expaensive, and come with its own raft of serious problems.

Few pointed out the obvious: he’s mad. These are the words of a man divorced from reality, consumed with hubris and megalomania.

Fewer still asked the most important question: what does he want? What kind of thing is he building that would require such unbelievable quantities of energy? It’s not a better chatbot, that’s for sure.

What he says he wants, according to the OpenAI blog: “AGI to empower humanity to maximally flourish in the universe”.

The first bit is standard corporatese. The last part is what matter: “in the universe”.

When I ask people what they think these guys want, they say, “To spread knowledge?” — “Money?” — “Power?”

But their desires are much more base than that. They simply want what everyone has always wanted: to live forever and rule everything. Most people try to sate those desires with religion. Or in Buddhism, to see them and let go of them. But they’re actively working to achieve them through technology.

These people are pursuing immortality in a least three ways.

  • As biological extension of life, as with Thiel’s rumored practice of infusing himself with the blood of the young.
  • Through cryogenesis, freezing their bodies for later revival, on the assumption that such things will be possible n the glorious future they are building.
  • As digital immortality, uploading consciousness to a computer (hence Musk’s Neuralink).

Their technologies are specifically designed and focused on ruling the galaxy. They believe in the “philosophy” called longtermism, whose ultimate ideal is that it doesn’t matter too much if billions of humans die and the earth becomes uninhabitable, so long as we can first colonize the galaxy, so that trillions of humans can live for billions of years, their welfare far outweighing that of the puny number of actual living humans. This nonsense is eugenics amplified, designed to justify the neglect and death of people who are, very largely, poor and colored.

But, you might be thinking, this sounds like fantasy or science fiction.

Exactly. These are geeks who grew up reading sci-fi and are building the things they read about. When discussing their work they constantly refer to Star Wars, to Dune, to the Matrix. That’s why non-geeks don’t understand them. Things that are outlandish to normal people are just taken for granted.

Problem is, they are terrible readers who completely misunderstand the meaning of what they have read. As a student, translator, and teacher of Buddhist scripture, this phenomenon is, alas, all too familiar to me.

There’s no better example of this than Peter Thiel. His company is called Palantir, named after the seeing-stones of Tolkien’s mythos. It specializes in surveillance, harvesting data and selling it. He seems to have forgotten that the purpose of seeing-stones was to enable effective governance by a legitimate ruler, and they could only safely be used by someone of “great strength of will and of mind”. They became an instrument of evil when that purpose was corrupted by Sauron, so that anyone who used them was subjected to the evil will of the Dark Lord.

Thiel has also said that his immortality project was inspired by the elves. Again, he seems to have not noticed that the elves were, according to Tolkien, blessed with immortality by God, who gave humans the equally precious but far more mysterious gift of death. And it is because of the gift of death that the apparently inferior race of men ultimately supplant the elves as the dominant race. For Tolkien, a man who seeks immortality in defiance of God’s gift does not become an elf, he becomes a nazgul, a hollow ringwraith filled with hate and lust for power, a puppet of his master Sauron.

Altman shows the same kind of unreflection around historical narratives. From the New Yorker:

One of the first things he did at OpenAI was to paint a quotation from Admiral Hyman Rickover on its conference-room wall. “The great end of life is not knowledge, but action,” Rickover said. “I believe it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him. … We must live for the future, not for our own comfort or success.” Altman recounted all the obstacles Rickover overcame to build America’s nuclear-armed Navy. “Incredible!” he said. But, after a considering pause, he added, “At the end of his life, when he may have been somewhat senile, he did also say that it should all be sunk to the bottom of the ocean. There’s something worth thinking about in there.”

He’s right about the last part. His idol created a world-destroying force only to come around at the end of his life to what people like me were saying all along: don’t build a world-destroying force. Altman sees it, on some level he knows it, but he is a slave to his ego and hubris, unable to stop himself from creating the thing that will destroy him.

In a brilliant interview in the Guardian, long time tech journalist Kara Swisher described how her faith in technology was worn away by the childish antics of men who were out of their depth.

I was irritated by the performative nature of it all, you know: all soft and squishy, but hard as nails on the inside. And that’s what these people were, right? They were always killers. Every one of them.

We are watching in real time the rise of the evil emperors. Maybe they’ll fail. Probably; hopefully. But so long as we continue to indulge and celebrate the worst of humanity, there will be more. They’ll never stop themselves. We have to stop them.


There is also AI enslavement.

Amazon this week announced they are giving up on the “Just Walk Out” technology they pioneered in 2017 with “Amazon Go”

What was Amazon Go? Here was the promising 2017 video:

Why are they closing it? It turns out the technology doesn’t quite work, and depends on 1000 humans in the background in India “validating” the AI.

As AI progresses, it will increasingly create a world where the Haves benefit from AI, and the Have Nots do menial tasks to “assist” AI. Kind of like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, or H.G. Wells’ Time Machine.

As I always love to quip: “In the future we will all have jobs. Someone still needs to clean the machines.”

Amazon actually sells a service euphemistically called “Mechanical Turk.” That’s right - you can hire lots of low paid workers in third world countries to “label” your training data, in exactly the same way as you instantiate a virtual machine in AWS.

I am not singling out Amazon - I am sure similar stories can be found in every corner of this Brave New World we live in.

A lot of these issues were prophesied by the Polish SF author Stanislaw Lem - in the 1950s and 1960s. He truly saw what the world would become during a time when computers were mainframes with a tiny fraction of their current capabilities.


Just amazing, this happened while I was writing this essay.

Indeed! I have only read a little of Lem, but from what I’ve seen he was a true visionary.

1 Like

This bears a side discussion over a cup of tea somewhere (not on SuttaCentral). I’ve been following some threads in the media and grey literature re: Where are women of colour in the hallowed corridors and boardrooms where the Lords cultivate their plans …

Is it sheer coincidence that two of them grew up in apartheid South Africa? I must be too dull-minded to get the nuanced connection. I just finished, for the second time, Gandhi before India to try to understand some things…

I read this article when it first came out. It was well worth my time to read it to the end. It is – to mis-appropriate a term – enlightening.

Fortunately it looks like the New Yorker removed the pay wall (they hardly ever do).

This didn’t go without notice for some folx over here. I admit that, for me, it is confusing because this meditation teacher is as close as some people will ever get, in person and on this continent, to a former Theravada monastic who learned at the feet of Ajahn Chah.

As an early Prius adopter in 2004, I was keenly interested in the broad calculations. Over time – continuing to today – I have dropped the effort to convince myself.

The UN climate modeling projects all point to drastic carbon reductions to stay under 1.5C (well, now 2C), which appear out of reach with today’s car culture no matter the type of underlying technology. I’ve been reshaping my perspective with this little book.

There you go.

Thank you for the back-of-the-envelope calculations (which always take at least one envelope).

I don’t know what it’s like to live within earshot of a crypto mining farm; it must be either great or awful for meditation practice.

That said, in my previous work life I went on many data center tours, including one hosted by Microsoft. (I also went on many server closet tours … that’s a story for another day.)

They are awe-inspiring. It’s incredible to walk up and down the neatly curated space and see the blinking lights. (At this point we we’re in the Bing part of the data center.) Then the generators and so forth. Lots of noise and heat and cooling.

I can’t complain about this infrastructure as it makes all of my Internet-based stuff run seamlessly. I am a user. I am complicit.

Not an exact corollary but there’s a sense of pulling off the band-aid. It’s not pleasant.

Beginning in about 2010 we had to implement a hard-and-fast policy that restricted US Government (USG) use of cloud data centers & services to a strict authorization & accreditation (AA) process. It was immediate & painful because many parts of the USG had already begun cloud creep.

From then on, I with my colleagues were constantly under pressure to acquiesce and allow customers to host applications “in the cloud.” (I’m talking about some mission-critical stuff.) We are, finally, now at a point in time where the regular ol’ customer understands that any application must be fire-walled within a AA cloud.

That is, it’s taken almost 15 years to re-learn this at the customer (client) level. It is a long process and I don’t relish it with regard to AI.

:pray:t3: :elephant:


My question is only loosely related to the topic, but are there any Suttas on how these people come to power? I guess it’s also our shared karma as we are all responsible for it in some way. And there is obviously some benefit to following megalomaniacs, otherwise it wouldn’t be hardcoded to humanity (even if it’s just being a fanboy on Reddit).

I think a lot about business and power and I always come to the conclusion that the only way to be this powerful is by being a narcissistic sociopath who is still able to act friendly. You simply must think of people as nothing more than resources, a means to your needs, otherwise there is no way you would be able to optimise for profit only. And I just don’t see how a mindstate like this fits the idea of “you give a lot in your previous life and get wealthy in your next”. I mean, sure, there are probably many other people who support their idea of living forever on Mars, otherwise they would run out of investor money, but I don’t think increasing shareholder value for many is the same as giving.

And when I ask about this, it usually gets explained away by “you can be wealthy, you can be a teacher or a doctor” (as if the job titles alone would imply moral character) and that “there are good and bad leaders, and even good ones sometimes have to make hard decisions”. A Vipassana teacher gave Obama as an example, and when I asked him about the wars he was responsible for, he got a bit upset and told me that leaders also have to protect their people. There’s always this fairy-tale-like notion as if power is something that’s given to rulers and everyone around them is just happy and cheering without any envy that they have it.

So I really don’t see how being born to a narcissistic, inbred family and exploiting masses through lies, which is pretty much a prerequisite than the exception for getting into fields of power can be a result of good karma. On the other hand, politics really can not work any other way.

…Or is it really good karma but they are on a natural roller coaster ride towards hell so their deeds add up to 0 as the sum of nothingness?

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If you’re interested in the role of racism in AI, I’d recommend the work of Timnit Gebru:

And also Abeba Birhane:

And Émile P Torres:

In a nutshell: AI reinforces racist stereotypes, and it is not just because of the data sources, but because of the beliefs and values of the people running it.

Indeed, it’s a terrific article.

I’m very happy to hear that. That was the first time I’d heard either Jack or Sam in person. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it wasn’t that!

Technically correct! Some more discussion of his monastic career can be found in this thread, for which see especially the comment by Ven Dhammanando.

Good on you! Electric vehicles have their place, but they aren’t going to solve climate change. Their biggest environmental contribution, I think, will be in creating cleaner city air. Which is a huge problem!

Ha ha, my maths skills are definitely rusty. I think Musk recently offered an update on this, but not sure how it differs.

Oh, good.

Indeed, and the quicker we move the better.

We can look at things like the story of Mandhata, the king who had everything and eventually wanted to conquer heaven.

Buddhism has both good and bad rich people. We’ve always had an equivocal relationship with wealth, which is good: wealth is equivocal.

For good leadership, the best place to look is the Vinaya.


Thanks, that’s the best answer I got on this so far!


Yes a deus ex machina salesman.

It reminds me of all the e.g. esoteric ritual specialists in medieval China who would sell the emperor on ever more elaborate rituals to avert the slow-motion catastrophes of famine or drought… The same playbook has been played successfully for thousands of years. Every age thinks they’re more enlightened than the previous, and yet each falls for the same kind of magical thinking, as long as it’s wrapped in the pius logic of their religion.

“Of course building computer technology is Good :tm:. If it weren’t, then I (the billionaire V.C. asked to invest in OpenAI) would have to question whether all the technology and wealth I built was truly good…” This is capital-raising through cognitive dissonance.

Of course the same thing happens in Theravāda countries. The Pagan Dynasty in Burma shoveled more and more money towards building stūpas as their kingdom began to collapse, believing the merit would save their empire. Of course, all that expenditure just hastened the collapse. But at least their last-ditch Great Work has stood the test of time, both physically and aesthetically:

I doubt the same will be true of chatbots, 700 years from now…