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  • Writer's pictureRicky

Protagonists aren’t always Good Guys

i was hoping that the oppenheimer movie would inspire a generation of kids to be physicists but it really missed the mark on that. let's get that movie made! (i think the social network managed to do this for startup founders.)

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI


Elon Musk, CEO of xAI

You mean the movie about inventing nuclear weapons wasn’t inspiring enough?

I am become death, destroyer of worlds, savior of STEM enrollment.

So this week Sam Altman invited everyone to join Worldcoin, the new cryptocurrency that wants to scan your eyeball first to biometrically confirm you’re a human. And Elon Musk rebranded Twitter as X, with plans to turn it into an everything app that can also be your bank and payment platform and eventually capture “half of the global financial system.” Don’t worry, cyberpunk dystopia is still super far away, now do you wanna vote for Biden or Trump? It’s the hottest month in 100,000 years. At least Sam and Elon totally get that cyberpunk is dystopic…right?

Deus X

Uh oh why are you making a pun inserting your new company into the title of the greatest cyberpunk game ever? You know cyberpunk hates corporations, right? Like that’s the whole point? Anyway here’s Sam’s interview in the New York Times, at least he’s the new Bill Gates who really gets it:

His grand idea is that OpenAI will capture much of the world’s wealth through the creation of A.G.I. [artificial general intelligence] and then redistribute this wealth to the people. In Napa, as we sat chatting beside the lake at the heart of his ranch, he tossed out several figures — $100 billion, $1 trillion, $100 trillion. If A.G.I. does create all that wealth, he is not sure how the company will redistribute it. Money could mean something very different in this new world. But as he once told me: “I feel like the A.G.I. can help with that.”

Hmm. All the while, Altman and Musk keep talking about how AI is an x-risk (extinction-level risk) that could kill us all or otherwise annihilate humanity’s long-term potential. Which they’re not wrong about but like…you know it would be your fault, right? Cause you both founded AI companies to actively develop this stuff? A minor subplot of Oppenheimer revolves around the idea that detonating a nuclear weapon might create an unstoppable chain reaction that burns the entire atmosphere. Physicists put this x-risk at “near zero” but who knows! So Oppenheimer goes, well, we gotta develop nukes before the Nazis do. And if their test nuke would blow up the world anyway, it’s not really an added risk. But then the Nazis are defeated before either side’s bomb is ready. And then Oppenheimer says, well, we can still use it on the Japanese. Once everyone sees how big these bombs are, war will become unthinkable. We’re gonna make world peace happen forever!

What’s a little x-risk given the promise of Utopia? Spoilers, but war’s still thinkable. And before Oppenheimer knows it, the US rushes ahead to develop hydrogen bombs orders of magnitude more powerful. He realizes that no weapon will ever be so big we’d never use it. And now that he’s made nuclear war possible forever, no one’s really that interested in hearing him talk about disarmament. Way to go! Protagonist? Yep! He’s the main character who drives the plot forward. Good guy? Uh...this is more of a cautionary tale, really. This is why I can’t stop thinking about how disappointed Sam and Elon were that Oppenheimer “missed the mark” on recruiting more STEM majors. These two guys are the endpoint of funding STEM education (because it’s useful/profitable) at the expense of the humanities (which might teach you how to interrogate your own values more carefully). Lacking any apparent exposure to the humanities, their media literacy is so low that they seem to think the main character of a movie has to be the good guy. After all, they’re the good guys, right? Just like they’re the protagonists of real life?

Sorry to blow your mind Sam but Zuckerberg’s not a good guy in The Social Network either.

So I guess these two multigazillionaires who love talking about x-risks went into the movie cheering for Oppenheimer. Ugh, why’d this STEM recruitment movie about nuclear bombs have to get so dang political I’ve written a bit before about how technical experts, business leaders, and even AI ethicists need help interrogating their own values more carefully. Where are the philosophers when we need em?

I don’t know that I can reach these two. But maybe I can help regular folks like you interrogate your own values. So I’m gonna spend the next month or so drafting a short ebook to try to walk through some basic value theory, and I’ll share it here real early in the process to get your feedback. I would love to help you think about values more carefully than these fools, because the way you think about value shapes the way you live your life. In the meantime, come check out the AI conference Cargile and I are running next week. And keep your eyes peeled for more?

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Jul 28, 2023

Deus X as the best cyberpunk game? Absolute left field take.

Jul 28, 2023
Replying to

Fortunately my favorite youtuber has a short related essay:


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