simondlr #21 - Artistry In The Age of GPT-3

When I think of AI, one of the lasting imprints I have comes from the Spielberg/Kubrick film: A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Watching it when I was young, it was dark, disturbing, and depressing. This boy that just wants to be human, and to do what he was made for: to love. One of the persistent themes in it, is that: humans suck. Even the robot Teddy Bear in it is more redeeming than the humans throughout the film.

The themes of AI in stories has always been a useful mechanism to juxtapose our own humanity. In many cases, it’s dystopic, something we fear: authoritarian, aggressive, or indifferent. From “I, Robot”, Neuromancer, Ex Machina, Terminator, The Matrix, etc.

On the other hand, positive depictions come from being helpful, elucidating, and connecting. The Culture series, Interstellar, Her, Star Wars.

I do feel though that many of the positive depictions aren’t at the core of the story. In cases where AI is at the core of a story is more often, due to its negative traits: a villain, or antagonist.

(PS: I asked for examples on Twitter if you are interested in seeing what others proposed as positive examples. Some great examples that I missed!)

In reality, notable institutions like OpenAI was created, partly because of a fear of AI landing in the wrong hands. We tend to fear it, because it represents a potential unrestrained feedback loop. Waitbutwhy, puts it nicely in this graph.

I think it’s a reasonable concern. It presents an existential threat to oneself, and humanity.

I do also believe that AI can provide us with boundless opportunity for reinvention, artistry, and beauty if we choose to relinquish our ‘bio-narcissism’, as my friend, Trent McGonaghy puts it.

As it stands at the moment, GPT-3 has taken over discourse of AI with its ability to do a simple task, really well: predicting the next word.

It is with that, that I wrote down some thoughts on artistry in the age of GPT-3. What becomes of artistry, and humanity when AI can make beautiful things? How do we relate to it?

https://blog.simondlr.com/posts/artistry-in-the-age-of-gpt3

What are your thoughts?

Book Update! Hope Runners of Gridlock!

I was hoping to get a public beta of the novel out by now, but I’ve gone back to the writing desk to do 2 things: nailing the ending, and secondly, pruning point-of-view characters.

I’ve been going back and forth a lot on tweaking the ending in such a way that it respects the reader’s journey. I want to ensure, above all else, that it ends well. I feel I’m 95% there.

It’s been an interesting journey learning the art of storytelling, and it’s different nuances. The most persistent feedback of the closed BETA from readers was that the book felt almost too objective, and that the reader wanted to know more about how people felt, to peer inside the minds of the characters. I realised that my initial drafts were written indeed, very objectively, almost like a film script. And so, I went back and indulged a bit more, detailing how characters were feeling. Unfortunately, in reading it, I discovered the pendulum had swung too much to the other side: too many point-of-views (up to 8 in a 300-page novel). It’s just too much and it jumps around too often. So, I’ve cut down on perspectives, to only the three main characters. It means I have to go back and prune the book in some parts, and expand in others.

I also did a personal exercise of writing similar to the ‘ducky method’ in programming: to explain yourself to an imaginary duck. In other words, I go through each chapter and explain to a fictional ‘reader’ why I made specific choices, and why it’s important. In explaining it, it helps elucidate the good parts, and the bad parts. If I can’t explain why it’s important, I cut it. As the famous editing dictum goes: “Kill your darlings”.

Stephen King had this to say on the art of writing in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

I’ve definitely been enjoying this process and hope to share the public BETA of the novel with you all soon.

Links!

Transparent Pixels As *Art*

I love conceptual art, and this example of Pak, selling a transparent pixel for $15k is *great*. Pak, for those that don’t know, is behind the famous Archillect bot. I do understand that it *angers* and frustrates more traditional artists, but I love conceptual art its purpose in creating a unique feeling. That confusion, anger, that jarred liminality is part of its purpose. I enjoy it.

ETH 2.0 Phase 0 Coming!

I’m super excited to see that the hopefully final, ETH 2.0 phase 0 testnet will be going live in August. It’s been a long time coming. Looking forward to running a node and playing again. It feels like the early days of Ethereum. A new toy to play with!

Tea

I developed a tea-drinking habit. As I’m writing this, I’m drinking a mixture of Rooibos, Honey Bush, and Buchu. Very South African mixture of herbal tea. I asked on Twitter for tea recommendations. If you like tea, this is a great resource. Let me know what teas you enjoy!

RadicalXChange

One of the reasons I enjoy the RadicalXChange movement is its purpose of pushing for diversity of thought and ideas: from political economy, to markets, to social justice movements, to art, to absurdism. This blog post breaks some of these themes.

Infinite Machine

This book by Camilla Russo covers the early days of Ethereum. Entirely biased, but I enjoyed it. It brought back good memories. So much still is going to happen. It’s only been 5 years since it was launched. If you are not into Ethereum, it’s also a really good account on how sometimes things happen due to luck: just being at the right place, at the right time. A lot of hard work went into Ethereum, but this narrative also shows that a lot could’ve gone wrong.

That’s all folks. Hope you get to enjoy a sunset!

Cheers

Simon

simondlr #20 - Cyberpunk and Experimental Land Rights in VR

One of my favourite things growing up, was watching the Travel Channel, and in particular: Globe Trekker. I felt like I was travelling along with hosts such as Ian Wright and Megan McCormick all over the world.

Growing up at the tip of Africa, meant that any international travel away from the continent was *very* far, and *very* expensive. The only way to see South Korea, USA, Japan, and India was through the TV. Being into computers, technology, and gaming, I often marvelled at cities in Asia. Tokyo was so far beyond what life was like in a small town in South Africa. It held all that I enjoyed as a teenager: the *future* in all its abundance.

We were all always behind, technologically. Some people are still stunned when they hear that whilst places like South Korea had 100mb internet, I used 56kb internet until I was 18: in 2007. And so, because this was out of reach, I always dreamed of being somewhere where the future was happening. The only way I could get that was by crawling through internet forums, learning to make games, and reading the latest gaming magazines.

Real life was boring. Slow. Old.

The other extreme was sci-fi, cyberspace, coding, gaming, creating. Even though I didn’t have access to cyberpunk literature of the 80s and 90s, I fell in love with that aesthetic. It represented that extreme: surfing the bow wave of future shock.

As I’ve been writing a cyberpunk-adjacent novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about how this influenced what I enjoy about those worlds. The most important part, I feel, is that cyberpunk, even though it’s often dystopic, provides a refuge in its vastness and diversity. In a city that stretches forever, there are corners in it where you would find those who are like you, and those who would tell you a story. As Nerdwriter1 explains it of Ghost In The Shell: cyberpunk seems adept at creating heterotopias. Places of ‘otherness’.

It provides a sense of scale where anyone could safely get lost in. That’s why, in its sometimes dark aesthetic, it’s like a blanket of clouds: comforted by it, and not having to face the brightness of mundane reality.

This establishing shot at the end of the first episode of Altered Carbon creates that feeling.

There’s a lot more here, especially in the way cyberpunk has changed over the years (eg, moving away from a critique of present time through a lens of the future, to mostly being an aesthetic). I have more to learn, more to read, and more to write!

Thus: it’s not a surprise that I enjoy still thinking at these frontiers. What is more cyberpunk than talking about experimental land rights in VR?

https://blog.simondlr.com/posts/experimental-land-rights-in-vr

I jotted down ideas on how one could approach a COST/Harberger Tax Zone & a Bonding Curve Zone in Cryptovoxels. Land would grow and shrink as demand for it grows and shrinks.

I also gave a talk on at RadicalxChange on this intersection between fiction and experimental economics. It describes how I designed the economics of the city in my upcoming novel. It contains no spoilers. It’s somewhat of a prequel-as-a-talk. (Not sure why the thumbnail is incorrect).

Also had a lot of fun talking about Harberger Tax and collectibles with the Wildcards team.

Links!

Rally

The intersection of creators & new economics is one of my favourite areas. The Rally team seeks to experiment here too: using bonding curves and other collectibles to push the boundaries of how fans connect and support creators. PS. Found this project through Jarrod Dicker who has been on fire recently with excellent takes on the creator/passion economy. Recommended follow.

AI Coding?

Digged this example of using GPT-3 to help someone code. Think it could definitely, as-is, serve as a great problem-solving companion. It can help show you a solution space even when it might not write correct code.

Jacob Collier

I recently discovered Jacob’s music and it’s just incredible. I’ve been a hobbyist musician for years and this makes me excited all over again about music. He manages to play with harmonies on a scale unlike anything I’ve seen. Also: he is just incredibly infectious. A rare find. Worth checking him out if you haven’t yet.

RAC & Zora

Speaking of the creator economy, Zora spoke with musician, RAC about this intersection. Lots to explore still.

Self-Adjusting Stablecoins

Been following recent experiments in self-adjusted stablecoins. These projects change monetary supply based on certain changes/influences in its own economies. Check out Ampleforth, Saga, and Frax.

That’s all friends. Remember to catch a sunset. :)

Cheers

Simon

simondlr #19 - This Artwork Is Always On Sale v2

Hi friends.

It’s been a strange few months.

I’ve been living alone now for 100+ days now due to the covid19 pandemic. Before this, one of the things I always wondered, is whether I would be able to spend excessive time by myself. I think many of us, even the most extroverted among us, have wondered whether a life in a cabin in the woods somewhere would suit us. I’m fortunate that this pandemic hasn’t caused physical or financial strain on me, and thus my small sacrifice to protect others, is to stay home as much as I can. It wasn’t clear, however, what emotional toll this might take on me. I generally enjoy cities, and engaging with other people. eg, when I can, I dance once a week, or head to a local Smash Bros tournament, see family, go rock climbing with friends, etc. None of that is happening regularly now.

I’ve definitely shifted gears and in some sense, I feel I’ve retreated towards the person I was when I was a socially awkward teenager: enjoying spending time in my own worlds, spending afternoons playing games, coding, or writing. This time round, however, I don’t have to struggle with a 56kb modem.

So, to answer the question: the trade-offs to living a life alone would be manageable for me. At least I would survive. I would also at least thrive for a while. There’s still a key difference: we know things will return to normal, so this is not indefinite.

There’s some new habits I picked up during this time.

  • Exercise daily for 20-30min. Either a walk/run or just some strength training to get my heart-rate up.

  • I’ve developed a new addiction to all manner of teas. It’s winter here, so it helps.

  • Waking up earlier and getting more sunlight. Long nights in the dark, although it can be productive times, gets to you.

  • Cooking. Oh boy. This has been fun. I haven’t cooked this much, ever. I’ve been trying to perfect my preferred egg fried rice. Still experimenting.

How are you coping? Picked up any new habits along the way?

This Artwork Is Always On Sale V2

It’s also the first time I actively coded for more than a year. A friend at Wildcards, Jason Smythe, sent me medium-severity bug reports on TAIAOS v1. There are potential ways in which an attacker can steal funds during transactions. Details here: https://github.com/simondlr/thisartworkisalwaysonsale/issues/18.

This prompted me to get back into Ethereum coding after spending most of my time writing for the past year. I tried using all new frameworks that I didn’t use out of habit in the past. It’s been great, and I learned new things again. Ethereum development frameworks are always improving. It’s great. Infinitely better than when I first started in 2015.

In doing so, I released v2 of ‘This Artwork Is Always On Sale’. This new artwork has a 100% patronage rate.

I describe my reasoning in my new blog post on it here:

https://blog.simondlr.com/posts/this-artwork-is-always-on-sale-v2

Novel Update! ‘Hope Runners of Gridlock’.

After giving early BETA copies to readers, I’m actively back in revision mode. I also revealed the cover, designed by the talented Dale Halvorsen. I know many more have asked to read the BETA copy, but atm, I’m deferring until I have this new revision finished. I’ve made some strong structural changes that I feel better represents the story I want to tell. I expect to be finished with this soon (somewhere in July).

I’ve always had a back-and-forth in my mind about how to publish this novel. From traditional publishing, episodic weeklies, self-publishing, to free. It’s still uncertain to me. However, the most important factor for me, for a debut novel is to ensure this gets as broad reach and distribution as possible. I enjoy writing, and the first goal is see whether this story I wrote gains traction amongst readers. It’s not just a test for the story itself, but whether I can write fiction well enough such that the world I imagine, the characters I sympathise with, and the arcs that happen can get out of my brain and into the minds and hearts of others. I won’t know unless I try to get as many to read it as possible.

So, with that, at this stage, at very least, I’m aiming to release the next revision, for free, as a public BETA. At this stage, I would consider the book to be structurally complete, and the final process is my own copy editing, followed by copy editing by a professional. Thus, if I choose to sell it, there would still be changes from the public BETA to the final book.

Still thinking about this, however. For now: editing mode.

Links!

Modelling Human Trajectory.

Extrapolating from the past takes us to an infinite future. Open Philanthropy tries to wrestle with this paradox. Really interesting read.

TikTok Aesthetic

A part of TikTok that I really enjoy is the #aesthetic part. Videos that are short snapshots of feeling. Soul nuggets of escapism. I tweeted a small thread for some escapism. Enjoy.

Nftfi

This dapp allows a simple lending marketplace to develop around Ethereum NFT/Collectibles. If the borrower can’t repay, then the lender can simply take ownership over the collectible.

Japanese Zoning

I adore Japanese zoning policy. It’s nuisance vs euclidean zoning. This means more flexibility in zoning and I generally feel it’s great reason why a place like Tokyo can fit 37 million in its metro area without it collapsing. I’ll probably write a more in-depth post on this in the future.

Creators, Communities, Crypto

I enjoyed this discussion between Fred Ehrsam, Jesse Walden, and Blake Robbins. It captures a lot of the themese/ideas I’ve shared around how blockchain technology can empower creators & communities.

That’s all for this edition. I’ve tried adding some personal touch to this newsletter at the start. Let me know if you enjoy that.

Remember: Wear a mask, #BlackLivesMatter, and catch a sunset when you can.

Cheers

Simon

simondlr #18 - Pandemic Astronauts & Infinite Stories In Blockchains

Hi friends.

For me, today is day 52, of living in isolation during this pandemic. It’s been an interesting period for many in the world. In some sense, I’ve felt that I’ve become an astronaut, with my mask as my helmet, roaming on space walks outside the capsule of my home. I wrote a short piece that deals with this topic. A pandemic in some sense, allows us to see the world through a new lens, and hopefully it teaches us to not take the life we have, for granted. Something, more lyrical:

https://blog.simondlr.com/posts/pandemic-astronauts

A few days later, CGP Grey also used this metaphor to explain what he called: Spaceship You. Worth a watch, for sure.

On Friday, I had the privilege to talk in VR, in CryptoVoxels at the WIP Meetup, that kicked off the Virtual Rare Art Festival. It was an amazing experience.

I touched upon Infinite Story Telling and how it relates to telling stories with blockchains projects.

https://blog.simondlr.com/posts/infinite-stories-in-blockchains

I left the event with a feeling of wonder. There’s a really great community, building all manner of interesting things. Listen to the TokenSmart Podcast and you will hear the pure passion and joy from the members of the community for this world.

Project Updates

Hope Runners of Gridlock

After getting BETA reader feedback, I’ve been busy with revisions. I know there are some of you that want to read the BETA, but I’m holding back on this at the moment. I’ve found that the changes are substantial enough that I don’t want you all to spend time reading that version of the book. Trying to ensure that it’s time meaningfully spent. That being said. Before going to the editor, I do plan on making a totally public BETA of the book: free for everyone to read, enjoy and provide feedback on.

I’m in the process of finding freelance editors that deal with sci-fi/cyberpunk/fantasy. If you know a good one, please forward me information!

This Artwork Is Always On Sale (update)

https://thisartworkisalwaysonsale.com/ has been on sale for more than a year. In getting back to more active coding, I’ve been catching up on developer tooling and using this opportunity to update the code, re-building it from scratch. There won’t be new features, but it should end up a bit neater and have some small bug fixes included.

Essays & Commentary On Blockchains, Economics, Art, and Some Of Life. (2013 - 2020)

For a while (since 2018 at least), I’ve been wanting to compile a list of essays I’ve written over the years into a condensed book along with updated commentary, opinions, and stories. I started with this, but it’s currently second fiddle to Hope Runners & TAIAOS. Slowly, however, it is coming together. I have a short list of 45 essays I’ve written that’s compiled into different categories.

Links!

Minecraft Parks

I played Minecraft extensively, back in 2011/2012. It’s still so amazing to see what people build, including theme parks. I enjoy theme parks, a lot, and wondered what a life as an imagineer must be like. And here we have people, doing it from their homes.

Unreal Engine 5

Speaking of world building, how incredible is this new demo from the new Unreal Engine? This will be amazing for film-making too.

https://www.unrealengine.com/en-US/blog/a-first-look-at-unreal-engine-5

Zora + $TAPE

I love RAC, and I love Zora: using bonding curves to issue digital goods that can be redeemed for physical goods. Great combination.

https://ourzora.com/rac/tape

Everest

Everest from the Graph team is a great example of a simple curation market. No extra token needed. Enjoy seeing these experiments play out. Worth playing with.

https://everest.link/charter/

Building Institutions

In some sense, I’ve grown a bit despondent with holding technology at the forefront of change. It’s often done without understanding, and can lead to many being unintentionally left behind. Mark Lutter’s rally cry of “Building Institutions, Not Apps”, resonated with me.

https://www.marklutter.com/post/build-institutions-not-apps

simondlr #17 - Firms Orbiting Firms

In celestial physics, there exist the concept of the “Roche Limit”: the point at which an orbiting object starts to disintegrate due to its own tidal forces as it approaches a nearby, larger object. I found this to be an interesting idea, and wondered whether this could translate to firms. In this article, I transpose the Celestial Roche Limit, and derive a first pass at Economic Roche Limit: when firms should absorb other firms. Enjoy!

https://blog.simondlr.com/posts/economic-roche-limit

A reader, Kenny Peluso, left a great comment on doing more research on this concept, including reading up on Cesar Hidalgo’s work. Thank you Kenny!

Life News

As with several billion others, I’ve been in quarantine/lockdown for several weeks now. I’ve been alone, working from my apartment. It has given me time to do some work, which includes starting the process of setting up a US company to formalise more of my work, and continue experimentation. I will share more of this soon! Still somewhat under wraps.

Book(s)!

Secondly, I’ve given my novel (“Hope Runners of Gridlock”) to a handful of BETA readers and have gotten excellent feedback thus far! I’m extremely grateful that others have taken the time to read the novel. I’ve been busy taking in this feedback and revising the book. I’m quite happy with the changes, and where it’s going. That being said, I think what’s interesting about this process is just how long something like this can take. This is especially the case for doing something like this, the first time round. I’ve run straight into dead-ends that I won’t run into again. I’m learning a lot. After this revision, I likely won’t be doing another big revision and will be sending it an editor. If you know or can recommend sci-fi/cyberpunk editors, please let me know!

Why, ‘books’ you ask? For a long while, I’ve been meaning to collect a bunch of my essays and compile it into a more readable format, along with updated commentary and background. This would be for essays from 2014-2020: six years of content. Instead of fumbling around online, on blogs, it fits more into a compendium of essays on blockchains, economics, and life. I’ve started with this project too, and hope to have a decent attempt done before the world goes back to normal.

This Artwork Is (Still) Always On Sale

On 21 March, my art project, This Artwork Is Always On Sale, has officially been on always-on-sale for more than a year, netting me 15.5 ETH as the artist. Happy to see that it worked, and is still working!

Links!

Balancer Is Live!

Balancer continues innovation in the automated-market-maker space. Great team, and they just launched. Go check it out.

Emergents Alpha

Probably one of the more exciting use-cases of bonding curves I’ve seen. As proposed: cards (each type) is on a bonding curve, which directly cause its value to rise based on its usefulness in the game. They are heading into alpha!

Endangered Animals And Radical Economics

Megan Doyle interviewed JonJon Clark on Wildcards, one of my favourite projects in the ecosystem (using Harberger Tax to support wild animals).

Crypto Business Models

Jesse Walden is one of my favourite writers in this space. He penned down a simple article explaining the benefits of crypto business models.

DHTs: From Kademlia to Discv5

Distributed Hash Tables are fascinating data structures. Dean Eigenmann gave a techinical tour on DHTs and how they are used in Ethereum. He writes great articles on distributed systems, and cryptography. Give his newsletter a subscribe!

Thank you for reading friends! For those who can afford to see a sunset during this pandemic, I hope you do. It’s kept me sane. Just like every sunset, it will soon pass.

Cheers!

Simon

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