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Episode one of the Food for Free Thought Podcast finds me and Karl Rosaen musing on the deeper questions in life—including how to compete with AI.

The thinking robot: machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI)


I’ve been fantasizing about this for a long time, and it’s finally here. Someday I’ll be Joe Rogan or Sam Harris, but I hope you love these humble beginnings. From a listener standpoint, it should be interesting to pay attention to the evolution of this project.

Here are a few of my lessons thus far:

  • Reviewing highlights sloppy thinking and glossed-over arguments
  • There’s a fine line between conversational and laissez faire
  • Just get started (on projects)—and work out the bugs as you go

I’m committing to at least 6 episodes over the course of the 1-2 months. And believe me: I have some fantastic conversations lined up with amazing people. This is going to fun.

Constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement are welcome, and they can be left on iTunes.

Let the games begin!

Karl Rosaen has been pushing the edge of software engineering since his early work on Google’s Android phones, and his recent leap of faith into the world of machine learning and artificial intelligence is no exception.

Karl is a senior research engineer at the U of M and Ford Center for Autonomous Vehicle at the University of Michigan. Karl took a learning sabbatical in the summer of 2016 to focus on machine learning and before that he was head of product and engineering at Food52.com.

Karl and his brother Alex host the Brosaen Detroit Pistons Podcast, where they regularly geek out on all things Detroit Pistons. In addition to the podcast, which you can find on iTunes, you can find Karl’s resources for machine learning and his research journal at KarlRosaen.com, or find him on Twitter and Github at krosaen.

During our hour long talk, Karl and I talked about his work on the then top-secret Android platform for Google phones, entrepreneurship, and how to compete against artificial intelligence (AI).

You can listen to the episode below, or at the links provided. Cheers!

Subscribe on iTunes | Stream the episode | Download as MP3 (right-click and choose “Save As”)

Topics covered in this conversation

  • How to get started as a programmer
  • How to choose between exciting projects
  • The secure path of blowing it all up and starting over
  • Machine learning—what is it, and what does it mean for the future of software?
  • Managing the evolution of your startup idea, and figuring out what works
  • Ideas about changing the future of food
  • The benefit and drawbacks of testing your startup up idea in local markets
  • Self-directed education
  • The importance of staying interested and following your curiosity
  • Applying product thinking to research
  • The dangers of an AI intelligence explosion and SkyNet
  • The deep technical and ethical questions that AI raises
  • What AI says about the nature of consciousness
  • What we can learn from toddlers about AI—object detection, differentiation and self-awareness
  • What happened when an robot taught itself to beat “Go!” every time
  • Insulating our minds from catastrophic thinking
  • The greatest threat: creatively competing with AI in the world of the future
  • How engineers can adapt in a world where AI writes programs
  • Why free thought and free expression are our ultimate weapons in staying relevant

People, resources and links from this episode

There is an important distinction to be made between the mistakable truth and the unmistakable truth—one is a path to freedom, the other to bondage.

Truth is beauty

“Is that a lie?” I asked the question as I realized the answer.

The conversation with my girlfriend this morning was around the “right” way to respond when someone shares a favorite food or drink—and, by abstraction, idea, story or position—that we don’t like. In these situations, we can eke by on half truths such as, “it’s interesting” or “it’s good” or “it must be healthy”. Or even outright lies like, “I like it” or “I agree”.

A better response, we decided, would be, “Wow. Thanks for sharing. On first impression, that’s quite a bit different than what I’m used to. But I can see how you might like it/see it that way.” And, for bonus points, “Maybe if I tried it a couple more times I’d like it better” or “Tell me more about why that’s important to you.”

There is an important distinction to be made between the mistakable and the unmistakable truth.

The mistakable truth can lead to misunderstanding, confusion, unresolved conflicts, missed opportunities, et cetera. By contrast, even if it results in a bit of initial conflict and discomfort, the unmistakable truth has a way of opening doors of real conversation, authentic connection and growth.

Featured image by Ben Canales of Truth Is Beauty, a 55-foot-tall sculpture created for Burning Man by artist Marco Cochrane.

Some thinking on the definition of wisdom, what it means, and how it can be applied in our lives. Drawing on inspiration from Seneca and the Stoics.

Ask yourself: what is wisdom? Am I wise?

Consider above all else whether you’ve advanced in philosophy or just in actual years.

Seneca, Letters from a StoicXVI:3

Years mean nothing if we haven’t gained wisdom. And wisdom is worthless if it can’t be applied.

A useful definition of philosophy is that it is the practice of gaining wisdom by studying and consciously exposing oneself to the natural processes of growth and change in our selves, minds, society and the natural world.

For a fighter in the ring, victory or defeat is nothing more than the measure of the effectiveness of his training. Likewise for a philosopher, whole-hearted study of the inner and outer worlds in the easy times prepares him to apply philosophy in the harder times.

In this sense, wisdom is far from subjective and not at all open to interpretation. It is measured by the ability to keep a level head, stay curious, and thrive even under the worst of external circumstances.

Featured art source is unknown.

Seneca teaches that a life well-lived should reckon with death. And we must learn to be energized by growth, change, and transformation—rather than flee it.

Death is watching over us all—friend or foe?

You are afraid to die, but come now: how is this life of yours anything but death?

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter LXXVII:18

Death. Some of us hide from it, some of us glorify it. Some of us deny it and avoid it by name.

But the task is to learn to recognize the “little deaths” that happen hour by hour, day by day, and to learn not to insulate ourselves from their emotional impact on our lives.

After all, if we’re not energized by the growth, change, and transformation that our relationships, minds, world and work inevitably face, that is its own kind of death.

Seneca’s lesson is that a life well-lived must constantly reckon with death. Not in dwelling on its distant inevitability—but instead, by finding and celebrating the moment-to-moment gift that its companionship offers.

Featured art is a Flemish engraving. The original source is unknown.

Taking revenge isn’t all bad—if it makes you a better person. Some thoughts on dealing with adversity, enemies and conflict.

Make it a goal to get better a taking revenge and to become a worthy opponent

The best kind of revenge is, not to become like unto them.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6:V

If your opponent is fearful, stay aware and find a way to remain courageous.

If your opponent is irrational, become rational.

If you opponent is deceitful, be honest.

If your opponent is bigoted, practice love and tolerance.

If you opponent is judgmental, keep an open mind.

If your opponent is argumentative and rude, communicate well and practice diplomacy.

But there’s no version of becoming this person as a reaction to your enemy that doesn’t make you his slave. Instead, the way through is to seek out the part of yourself that is the enemy and reckon with it.

Understand what that side of you it is most afraid of losing, and find a productive way to provide it. Not only does this make you a better person, it turns you into a formidable opponent with the power to stand up to, take down, and keep out.

Featured image is of martial artists at Gracie Jiu Jitsu San Diego, the first Gracie San Diego Academy affiliated with Master Royler Gracie.