Book: Elon Musk – Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future


Elon Musk needs no introductions. His biography is not only an analysis of his way of thinking but also a treasure trove of exciting Silicon Valley history and current trivia. While investigating the life of Elon, we learn about PayPal, Tesla, Solar City, and SpaceX. He took on every heavily-regulated, bureaucratic behemoth and ultimately came up on top.

Elon’s approach has cemented my long-held belief that there is a lot of lore and gossip about what “can’t be done.” And people tend to work very hard under that assumption, suffering the grueling reality of terrible workarounds.

But when you challenge the thing that “can’t be done” based on first principles, very often you can prevail, because you are the person who decided to care.

Why is Elon Musk so successful?

Because he decided to care.

“When Elon gets into something, he develops just this different level of interest in it than other people. That is what differentiates Elon from the rest of humanity.”

The go-to answer usually states, “because he is a genius,” but that is not very helpful. It also is not true. There are plenty of “tortured geniuses” who never achieve much of anything. Ideas are cheap, and execution is everything.

I believe Elon is successful because of:

  1. Relentless focus
  2. Capacity to suffer more personal cost than others
  3. Extraordinary intelligence

Intelligence is the easiest one to find. There are plenty of extraordinarily, intelligent people. But rarely you can find somebody who will be so focused and determined to challenge the industry incumbents on so many fronts and survive the pressures he did.

Thinking from the first principles

Elon is not a genius innovator constructing batteries in his garage. But he is always eager to work from first principles – the laws of physics or economics to calculate what would be possible. It takes serious brainpower to do that for rocket science, but the breakthrough is not in being smarter, but in doing things both differently and correct.

“We’re thinking, Fucking nerd. What can he be doing now?” At which point, Musk wheeled around and flashed a spreadsheet he’d created. “Hey, guys,” he said, “I think we can build this rocket ourselves.”

I am convinced that working with reality as it is is a rare superpower. 

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool,” said Richard Feynman. We are not keen on taking in the full consequence of our mistakes or recognizing the hard work and steep path ahead when our egos are on the line. “Embrace Reality and Deal with It” is the #1 principle of Ray Dalio (most successful hedge fund manager in history).

My wife says that it’s not true that we only use ten percent of our brains. We use the full 100%, but usually, 40% is busy fighting the other 50%, not leaving much to deal with issues at hand. Well, Elon uses every single neuron to further the advent of electric cars and make humanity an interplanetary species.

The fantastic adventures of Elon Musk

If you want to read more about these outlandish goals, I highly encourage the Wait But Why series:

In 2015, I got a call from Elon Musk. Not something you expect to happen. What ensued was a six-month deep dive into the world of Elon and his companies and four long articles about what I found. Here they are:

Tim Urban – “Wait but Why”

My highlights from the book

  • Like many an engineer or physicist, Musk will pause while fishing around for exact phrasing, and he’ll often go rumbling down an esoteric, scientific rabbit hole without providing any helping hands or simplified explanations along the way.
  • “I think there are probably too many smart people pursuing Internet stuff, finance, and law,” Musk said on the way. “That is part of the reason why we haven’t seen as much innovation.” MUSK
  • On his thirtieth birthday, Musk rented out a castle in England for about twenty people. From 2 A.M. until 6 A.M., they played a variation of hide-and-seek called sardines in which one person runs off and hides and everyone else looks for him.
  • The family gained some measure of notoriety as people heard about Haldeman and his wife packing their kids into the back of the single-engine craft and heading off on excursions all around North America.
  • “We were left with the impression that we were capable of anything. You just have to make a decision and do it. In that sense, my father would be very proud of Elon.”
  • Over time, Musk has ended up thinking that his brain has the equivalent of a graphics chip. It allows him to see things out in the world, replicate them in his mind, and imagine how they might change or behave when interacting with other objects.
  • Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
  • “When Elon gets into something, he develops just this different level of interest in it than other people. That is what differentiates Elon from the rest of humanity.”
  • “Really smart people sometimes don’t understand that not everyone can keep up with them or go as fast,”
  • All the bankers did was copy what everyone else did. If everyone else ran off a bloody cliff, they’d run right off a cliff with them. If there was a giant pile of gold sitting in the middle of the room and nobody was picking it up, they wouldn’t pick it up, either.”
  • “We’re thinking, Fucking nerd. What can he be doing now?” At which point Musk wheeled around and flashed a spreadsheet he’d created. “Hey, guys,” he said, “I think we can build this rocket ourselves.”
  • Someone taped twenty of the batteries together, put a heating strip wire into the bundle, and set it off. “It went up like a cluster of bottle rockets,” Lyons said. Instead of twenty batteries, the Roadster would have close to 7,000, and the thought of what an explosion at that scale would be like horrified the engineers.
  • After Iron Man came out, Favreau began talking up Musk’s role as the inspiration for Downey’s interpretation of Tony Stark. It was a stretch on many levels.
  • Musk told Riley, a virgin, that he wanted to show her his rockets. “I was skeptical, but he did actually show me rocket videos,” she said.
  •  “I hadn’t had an opportunity to buy a Christmas present for Talulah or anything,” he said. “I went running down the fucking street in Boulder, and the only place that was open sold these shitty trinkets, and they were about to close. The best thing I could find were these plastic monkeys with coconuts—those ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ monkeys.”
  • Hotshot college graduates have historically been forced to pick between a variety of slow-moving military contractors and interesting but ineffectual start-ups.
  • They would hand out blank envelopes that contained invitations to meet at a specific time and place, usually a bar or restaurant near the event, for an initial interview.
  • They’re asked to write an essay for Musk about why they want to work at SpaceX.
  • Musk, though, wanted his engineers to watch what was going on with the machines at all times and to make sure they had to walk through the factory and talk to the technicians on the way to their desks.
  • Just by streamlining a radio, for instance, SpaceX’s engineers have found that they can reduce the weight of the device by about 20 percent.
  • SpaceX will sometimes load a rocket with both the standard equipment and prototypes of its own design for testing during flight. Engineers then compare the performance characteristics of the devices.
  • company created an e-mail filter to detect messages with “blue” and “origin” to block the poaching.
  • He would quiz you until he learned ninety percent of what you know.”
  • SpaceX’s top managers work together to, in essence, create fake schedules that they know will please Musk but that are basically impossible to achieve.
  • One person putting in a sixteen-hour day ends up being much more effective than two people working eight-hour days together.
  • “The mantra was that one great engineer will replace three medium ones,” Lloyd said.
  • Since Musk never writes anything down, he held all the alterations in his head and would run down the checklist week by week to see what the engineers had fixed.
  • “We have to decide what is the best sun visor in the world and then do better,”
  • He’s very visual and can store things that others have deemed to look good away in his brain for recall at any time. This process has helped Musk develop a good eye, which he’s combined with his own sensibilities, while also refining his ability to put what he wants into words.
  • To the extent that the world still doubts Elon, I think it’s a reflection on the insanity of the world and not on the supposed insanity of Elon.”
  • Musk paid $1 million for the Lotus Esprit that Roger Moore drove underwater in The Spy Who Loved Me and wants to prove that such a vehicle can be done. “Maybe we’ll make two or three, but it wouldn’t be more than that,” Musk told the Independent newspaper. “I think the market for submarine cars is quite small.” At
  • As Page puts it, “Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.”
  • “I’ve learned that your intuition about things you don’t know that much about isn’t very good,” Page said.
  • “It’s kind of our recreation, I guess,” said Page.23 “It’s fun for the three of us to talk about kind of crazy things, and we find stuff that eventually turns out to be real.
  • He’s willing to suffer some personal cost, and I think that makes his odds actually pretty good.
  • “I don’t think we’re doing a good job as a society deciding what things are really important to do,” Page said.
  • “Elon came to the conclusion early in his career that life is short,” Straubel said. “If you really embrace this, it leaves you with the obvious conclusion that you should be working as hard as you can.”
  • “There’s this point that Mike Judge makes in Idiocracy, which is like smart people, you know, should at least sustain their numbers,” Musk said.
  • “I would like to die on Mars,” he said. “Just not on impact. Ideally I’d like to go for a visit, come back for a while, and then go there when I’m like seventy or something and then just stay there.
  • If my wife and I have a bunch of kids, she would probably stay with them on Earth.”
  • He seems to feel for the human species as a whole without always wanting to consider the wants and needs of individuals. And it may well be the case that this is exactly the type of person it takes to make a freaking space Internet real.
  • it was a little difficult because like the Linux system Max had created was called Max Code. So Max has had quite a strong affinity for Max Code. This was a bunch of libraries that Max and his friends had done. But it just made it quite hard to develop new features. And if you look at PayPal today, I mean, part of the reason they haven’t developed any new features is because it’s quite difficult to maintain the old system.
  • “Square is doing the wrong version of PayPal.
  • “I mean, it’s so ridiculous that PayPal today is worse than PayPal circa end of 2001. That’s insane.
  • “None of these start-ups understand the objective. The objective should be—what delivers fundamental value.

Book: Homo Deus – a history of Tomorrow

TLDR: Yes, you should read this book.

“In seeking bliss and immortality humans are in fact trying to upgrade themselves into gods.”

Yuval Noah Harrari

Humanism has brought us incredible advances: We cured plagues, stopped wars, tamed nature. Climate catastrophe aside, we succeeded in overcoming every challenge thrown at a human race and came stronger and more resilient from experience.

Homo Deus is a book about the possible paths for humanity. Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens takes his insightful analysis of our species history and maps the trends and technological advances to present us with a possible future. I find this analysis highly accurate and agree with him on the direction we are facing.

Plagues and wars are no longer a daily concern. Now, my main struggle is finding ripe enough Avocado for my morning toast.

But this enormous success has brought its own trap: We have become accustomed to our way of life. 

Amazon link

The shortcomings of Humanism

You can only force people to do so many things. But it turns out that if you give them meaning and a purpose, they will be capable of incredible feats.

In early modern times, religion has provided this purpose generously. If you served God, you would go to Heaven. Everything made sense. You should, without a doubt, put all your efforts into furthering churches’ mission, even if that meant killing more pagans or dying yourself in the process.

Then came the Renaissance.

Slowly, but surely the religion was not the only game in town. People discovered the value of an individual human being, and human colossus started to gain more power ( Read this post by Tim Urban to learn more about the human collossus ).

During the Agricultural Revolution humankind silenced animals and plants, and turned the animist grand opera into a dialogue between man and gods. During the Scientific Revolution humankind silenced the gods too. The world was now a one-man show.

Yuval Noah Harrari

When you give people meaning and empower them to unleash their creativity, they will stop at nothing to achieve the goal. There is a catch, though.

The goal of Humanism is to remove any artificial meaning continually.

This is the primary commandment humanism has given us: create meaning for a meaningless world.

Yuval Noah Harrari

For a while, that meaning was elevating the living conditions of the western world. Fighting poverty, hunger, and diseases. Human spirit prevailing over the harsh environment.

We have succeeded in all these pursuits, but in the course of doing so, we have created problems that do not have clear solutions. We have run out of meaning, and postmodernism has poisoned our ability to seek it.

Different flavors of Humanism have pursued different ways of seeking that meaning:

  • Liberal Humanism is all about freedom of the individual – this is what we usually mean when we say “Humanism.”
  • Socialist Humanism aims to elevate the living conditions of the collective. By working together, we will thrive.
  • Evolutionary Humanism wants to create better conditions by ensuring only the strongest individuals continue to shape the future. 

In the second half of the twentieth-century humankind almost obliterated itself in an argument about production methods.

Yuval Noah Harrari

For a while, after World Wars, we have relished in the renewed sense of meaning yet again. Rebuilding our broken world, healing the wounds and ensuring working on the trauma gave us purpose.

But those days are gone.

What will be the new frontier?

“It took just a piece of bread to make a starving medieval peasant joyful. How do you bring joy to a bored, overpaid and overweight engineer?”

We are now heading straight for techno-utopia. Our every little annoyance is solved with technical advances. Now I do not need to seek an Avocado for my toast. The meal will be delivered to my doorstep without me leaving the couch.

And Avocado Toast is here to stay.

Every primary belief system has made use of one thing as the ultimate meaning source: The death itself.

  • “Obey, or you will go to hell.”
  • “Enjoy your time while you are here.”
  • “We are only playthings of the Gods, and we die when they are finished with us.”

Regardless of the specific theology, death was always a constant fact of life. At least you could count on that.

It is only natural that humans would try to attack it with considerable hubris. Hans Rosling expands on this in Factfulness.

The life span is increasing, thanks to medical advances rapidly.

We don’t have to invent immortality. To effectively live forever, your life expectancy has to improve by one year, every year.

Current medical improvements will keep you around long enough to see future medical enhancements and so on.

I am consciously getting around the topic of life quality in this scenario, since that may be a good question for another time.

Virtual Reality is also becoming a consideration. We could upload our consciousness straight into the Internet.

Let’s not lie to ourselves – many of us are already living there.

The perils of immortality

Let’s say we have achieved immortality.

We will have conquered everything. Where do we find meaning, then?

  • One idea is that the meaning is data being processed. Humanity is only the vector by which information is spreading.
  • We may find that space – “The Final Frontier” – is something that will infuse humanity with new Vigor
  • Do you have any ideas? I’m all ears

Another thing we are currently battling with is that it’s tough to change people’s minds.

Never before in human history, the reality has changed faster than people were dying. The psychological makeup after you are thirty makes you less likely to change mind and accept new concepts.

Max Planck famously said that science advances one funeral at a time.

Yuval Noah Harari

You could blame the recent resurgence of conservatism on the change velocity in the modern world. It will be exciting to see how humanity will adapt to this constant change.

Sidetone: The intersubjective level of Reality.

According to Harari, there are three levels of the reality:

  • The objective reality that we share. This one is governed by immutable laws of nature,
  • Intrasubjective Reality that is private for each and every one of us. It’s governed by our belief system,
  • Intersubjective Reality that we share, but it is governed by our shared belief systems.

Part of our political discussion recently is that we ignore the third, intersubjective level and try to classify our experience in one of the former two. We mostly do not agree about this classification.

There is a talk by Yuval Noah Harari in University of California:

My highlights

  • There are no longer natural famines in the world; there are only political famines. If people in Syria, Sudan or Somalia starve to death, it is because some politician wants them to.
  • Whereas in March 1520, when the Spanish fleet arrived, Mexico was home to 22 million people, by December only 14 million were still alive. Smallpox was only the first blow. While the new Spanish masters were busy enriching themselves and exploiting the natives, deadly waves of flu, measles and other infectious diseases struck Mexico one after the other, until in 1580 its population was down to less than 2 million.8 Two centuries later, on 18 January 1778, the British explorer Captain James Cook reached Hawaii.
  • Altogether the pandemic killed between 50 million and 100 million people in less than a year. The First World War killed 40 million from 1914 to 1918.
  • In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes.23 Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.
  • as knowledge became the most important economic resource, the profitability of war declined and
  • What Rwanda earned from an entire year of looting Congolese coltan, the Chinese earn in a single day of peaceful commerce.
  • When the moment comes to choose between economic growth and ecological stability, politicians, CEOs and voters almost always prefer growth.
  • Rather, for modern people death is a technical problem that we can and should solve.
  • They maintain that anyone possessing a healthy body and a healthy bank account in 2050 will have a serious shot at immortality by cheating death a decade at a time.
  • Max Planck famously said that science advances one funeral at a time.
  • Indeed, even chimpanzees in the jungle sometimes live into their sixties.
  • Galileo Galilei died at seventy-seven, Isaac Newton at eighty-four, and Michelangelo lived to the ripe age of eighty-eight, without any help from antibiotics, vaccinations or organ transplants. Indeed, even chimpanzees in the jungle sometimes live into their sixties.29
  • When you take into account our belief in the sanctity of human life, add the dynamics of the scientific establishment, and top it all with the needs of the capitalist economy, a relentless war against death seems to be inevitable.
  • You fought for your country when you were eighteen, and paid your taxes when you were forty, because you counted on the state to take care of you when you were seventy.30
  • liberty. It’s important to note, however, that the American Declaration of Independence guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness, not the right to happiness itself
  • Epicurus recommended, for example, to eat and drink in moderation, and to curb one’s sexual appetites.
  • It took just a piece of bread to make a starving medieval peasant joyful. How do you bring joy to a bored, overpaid and overweight engineer?
  • Forget economic growth, social reforms and political revolutions: in order to raise global happiness levels, we need to manipulate human biochemistry.
  • The principle is clear: biochemical manipulations that strengthen political stability, social order and economic growth are allowed and even encouraged (e.g., those that calm hyperactive kids in school, or drive anxious soldiers forward into battle). Manipulations that threaten stability and growth are banned.
  • Some 2,300 years ago Epicurus warned his disciples that immoderate pursuit of pleasure is likely to make them miserable rather than happy.
  • To attain real happiness, humans need to slow down the pursuit of pleasant sensations, not accelerate it.
  • In seeking bliss and immortality humans are in fact trying to upgrade themselves into gods.
  • Breaking out of the organic realm could also enable life to finally break out of planet earth.
  • In the twenty-first century, the third big project of humankind will be to acquire for us divine powers of creation and destruction, and upgrade Homo sapiens into Homo deus.
  • Thus the Old Testament God never promises any rewards or punishments after death.
  • This is what we fear collectively, as a species, when we hear of superhumans. We sense that in such a world, our identity, our dreams and even our fears will be irrelevant, and we will have nothing more to contribute.
  • But most experts think on a timescale of academic grants and college jobs. Hence, ‘very far away’ may mean twenty years, and ‘never’ may denote no more than fifty.
  • but soon enough men who had no impotence problems in the first place began using the same pill to surpass the norm, and acquire sexual powers they never had before.45
  • Once stem-cell research enables us to create an unlimited supply of human embryos on the cheap, you can select your optimal baby from among hundreds of candidates,
  • Knowledge that does not change behaviour is useless. But knowledge that changes behaviour quickly loses its relevance.
  • The new history will explain that ‘our present situation is neither natural nor eternal. Things were different once. Only a string of chance events created the unjust world we know today. If we act wisely, we can change that world, and create a much better one.’
  • In most Semitic languages, ‘Eve’ means ‘snake’ or even ‘female snake’.
  • because the twenty-first century will be dominated by algorithms. ‘Algorithm’ is arguably the single most important concept in our world.
  • Over the last few decades biologists have reached the firm conclusion that the man pressing the buttons and drinking the tea is also an algorithm.
  • These algorithms undergo constant quality control by natural selection.
  • What we call sensations and emotions are in fact algorithms.
  • It is therefore likely that frightened humans, frightened baboons and frightened pigs have similar experiences.
  • John Watson, a leading childcare authority in the 1920s, sternly advised parents, ‘Never hug and kiss [your children], never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning.’
  • A modern Jewish family that celebrates a holiday by having a barbecue on their front lawn is much closer to the spirit of biblical times than an orthodox family that spends the time studying scriptures in a synagogue.
  • During the Agricultural Revolution humankind silenced animals and plants, and turned the animist grand opera into a dialogue between man and gods. During the Scientific Revolution humankind silenced the gods too. The world was now a one-man show.
  • Everything that happens in the cosmos is judged to be good or bad according to its impact on Homo sapiens.
  • Hence the existence of souls cannot be squared with the theory of evolution.
  • So perhaps behind all the sensations and emotions we ascribe to animals – hunger, fear, love and loyalty – lurk only unconscious algorithms rather than subjective experiences?
  • Consciousness is the biologically useless by-product of certain brain processes. Jet engines roar loudly, but the noise doesn’t propel the aeroplane forward.
  • it implies that all the pain and pleasure experienced by billions of creatures for millions of years is just mental pollution.
  • Mind and body are made of pipes, cylinders, valves and pistons that build and release pressure, thereby producing movements and actions. Such thinking had a deep influence even on Freudian psychology, which is why much of our psychological jargon is still replete with concepts borrowed from mechanical engineering.
  • Starting with the assumption that we can believe humans when they report that they are conscious, we can identify the signatures of human consciousness, and then use these signatures to ‘prove’ that humans are indeed conscious.
  • According to Turing, in the future computers would be just like gay men in the 1950s. It won’t matter whether computers will actually be conscious or not. It will matter only what people think about it.
  • This declaration stops short of saying that other animals are conscious, because we still lack the smoking gun. But it does shift the burden of proof to those who think otherwise. Responding to the shifting
  • Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness,
  • This declaration stops short of saying that other animals are conscious, because we still lack the smoking gun. But it does shift the burden of proof to those who think otherwise.
  • If a hive faces a new threat or a new opportunity, the bees cannot, for example, guillotine the queen and establish a republic.
  • First, they placed loyal communist apparatchiks in control of all networks of cooperation, such as the army, trade unions and even sports associations. Second, they prevented the creation of any rival organisations – whether political, economic or social – which might serve as a basis for anti-communist cooperation. Third, they relied on the support of sister communist parties in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe.
  • Classical economists have probably never left their laboratories and lecture halls to venture into the real world.
  • These are sets of rules that, despite existing only in our imagination, we believe to be as real and inviolable as gravity.
  • there is a third level of reality: the intersubjective level.
  • Meaning is created when many people weave together a common network of stories.
  • Sapiens rule the world because only they can weave an intersubjective web of meaning: a web of laws, forces, entities and places that exist purely in their common imagination.
  • Humans think they make history, but history actually revolves around the web of stories.
  • Just like the living-god pharaoh, the living-god Petsuchos was lovingly groomed by attending priests who provided the lucky reptile with lavish food and even toys, and dressed him up in gold cloaks and gem-encrusted crowns.
  • But nowadays we habitually say that the United States built the first nuclear bomb, that China built the Three Gorges Dam or that Google is building an autonomous car. Why not say, then, that pharaoh built a reservoir and Sobek dug a canal?
  • Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the angel with the rubber stamp.
  • Sousa Mendes, armed with little more than a rubber stamp, was responsible for the largest rescue operation by a single individual during the Holocaust.2
  • He is convinced that everything happens because of him. Most people grow out of this infantile delusion. Monotheists hold on to it till the day they die.
  • Indeed, even today when US presidents take their oath of office, they put their hand on a Bible.
  • Consequently the system may seem to be working well, but only if we adopt the system’s own criteria.
  • History isn’t a single narrative, but thousands of alternative narratives. Whenever we choose to tell one, we are also choosing to silence others.
  • How do you know if an entity is real? Very simple – just ask yourself, ‘Can it suffer?’
  • Corporations, money and nations exist only in our imagination. We invented them to serve us; why do we find ourselves sacrificing our lives in their service?
  • We always believe in ‘the truth’; only other people believe in superstitions.
  • Religion is any all-encompassing story that confers superhuman legitimacy on human laws, norms and values.
  • For religions, spirituality is a dangerous threat.
  • When religions advertise themselves, they tend to emphasise their beautiful values. But God often hides in the fine print of factual statements.
  • The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange
  • Yet in fact modernity is a surprisingly simple deal. The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.
  • If modernity has a motto, it is ‘shit happens’.
  • On the practical level modern life consists of a constant pursuit of power within a universe devoid of meaning.
  • For thousands of years priests, rabbis and muftis explained that humans cannot overcome famine, plague and war by their own efforts. Then along came the bankers, investors and industrialists, and within 200 years managed to do exactly that.
  • This is the primary commandment humanism has given us: create meaning for a meaningless world.
  • develop a particular liking for ‘Panda Dung tea’ from the mountains of Ya’an in Sichuan province, made from the leaves of tea bushes fertilised by the dung of panda bears.
  • at least during the nineteenth century nationalism was closely aligned with liberalism.
  • My current political views, my likes and dislikes, and my hobbies and ambitions do not reflect my authentic self. Rather, they reflect my upbringing and social surroundings. They depend on my class, and are shaped by my neighbourhood and my school.
  • While it is a favourite pastime of Western academics and activists to find fault with the liberal package, they have so far failed to come up with anything better.
  • Pius led a series of reforms in Catholic dogma and established the novel principle of papal infallibility, according to which the Pope can never err in matters of faith (this seemingly medieval idea became binding Catholic dogma only in 1870, eleven years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species).
  • In the second half of the twentieth century humankind almost obliterated itself in an argument about production methods.
  • until they finally discover what they need: some maxim, parable or ruling that, if interpreted creatively enough means God blesses gay marriages and women can be ordained to the priesthood.
  • The Bible is kept as a source of authority, even though it is no longer a true source of inspiration.
  • The sacred word ‘freedom’ turns out to be, just like ‘soul’, a hollow term empty of any discernible meaning.
  • For the experiencing self, it is impossible that adding a slightly unpleasant experience to a very unpleasant experience will make the entire episode more appealing.
  • The value of the whole experience is determined by averaging peaks with ends.
  • We identify with the inner system that takes the crazy chaos of life and spins out of it seemingly logical and consistent yarns.
  • Our narrating self would much prefer to continue suffering in the future, just so it won’t have to admit that our past suffering was devoid of all meaning.
  • if we want to come clean about past mistakes, our narrating self must invent some twist in the plot that will infuse these mistakes with meaning.
  • Medieval crusaders believed that God and heaven provided their lives with meaning; modern liberals believe that individual free choices provide life with meaning. They are all equally delusional.
  • We are about to face a flood of extremely useful devices, tools and structures that make no allowance for the free will of individual humans.
  • Is it a coincidence that universal rights were proclaimed at the precise historical juncture when universal conscription was decreed?
  • It is telling that already today in many asymmetrical conflicts the majority of citizens are reduced to serving as shields for advanced armaments.
  • An application called Deadline goes a step further, informing you of how many years of life you have left, given your current habits.
  • Algorithms won’t revolt and enslave us. Rather, they will be so good at making decisions for us that it would be madness not to follow their advice.
  • Liberalism will collapse on the day the system knows me better than I know myself. Which is less difficult than it may sound, given that most people don’t really know themselves well.
  • Modern humanity is sick with FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – and though we have more choice than ever before, we have lost the ability to really pay attention to whatever we choose.6
  • 1.Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing? 2.What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness? 3.What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?

Book: Whiplash – How to survive our faster future.

Whiplash is a book about thriving in a world that is only gaining speed. Joi Ito was a director of now-famous MIT Media Lab and Jeff Howe is a veteran Wired author. Together, they dissect the most important scientific advances of history to discover what makes them tick.

Amazon link.

They distill it into few principles for thriving in a changing world.

The core premise is that old rules no longer serve us. Previously, the world roughly stayed the same over centuries. Now, I can expect everything to change few times during my lifetime. I cannot use the old playbook to navigate this landscape.

  1. Emergence over Authority – true innovation often happens despite of, not because of management. You cannot decree a breakthrough. 
  2. Pull over Push is basically Market economy vs Central Planning. Once you lay out the incentives in a proper way, people will know what should end up where. With central planning (push) you will be mostly clueless about the realities you are working with.
  3. Compasses over Maps will let you navigate the unexplored spaces
  4. Risk over Safety is safer long-term
  5. Disobedience over Compliance yields the best ideas.
  6. Practice over Theory will let you navigate the real world, not the textbook one
  7. Diversity over Ability adapts better to changing circumstances.
  8. Resilience over Strength will ensure you don’t break
  9. Systems over Objects will keep you going.

I would summarize it into: Be a gardener, not an Architect. Let people do their best and try not to mess the amazing process of ideation or learning.

Learning, we argue, is something you do for yourself. Education is something done to you.

Whiplash ties neatly into other books I have read recently:

  • Loonshots for a fantastic overview of the innovation process
  • Innovators for amazing history of the early computer age

My Highlights

  • and a Parisian could be forgiven for thinking that anything might happen on any given night, because anything often did.
  • humans are perpetually failing to grasp the significance of their own creations.
  • “What if the historical pattern—disruption followed by stabilization—has itself been disrupted?” ask the authors of “The Big Shift” in another article, “The New Reality: Constant Disruption.”
  • And then there’s anthropogenic complexity, or the kinds of systems—like our climate, or the chemistry of our water sources—made vastly more complex by man’s unwitting interventions. Put another way, we may have created climate change, but that doesn’t mean we understand it.
  • The quantity, or level, of complexity is influenced by four inputs: heterogeneity, a network, interdependency, and adaptation.
  • The culture isn’t so much interdisciplinary as it is proudly “antidisciplinary”; the faculty and students more often than not aren’t just collaborating between disciplines, but are exploring the spaces between and beyond them as well.

  • Learning, we argue, is something you do for yourself. Education is something done to you.
  • Resnick runs the Lifelong Kindergarten research group, and his dedication to what he calls the “four Ps” of creative learning—Projects, Peers, Passion, and Play
  • Emergence over Authority
  • A lipid never turned to a protein and said, “We need to get organized. We should all get together in the form
  • Maybe you’ll want an exotic pet? Try one of the boutique, pint-sized elephants on offer at the local GeneFab, or program your own.
  • All of these advances are creating a de facto system in which people worldwide are empowered to learn, design, develop, and participate in acts of creative disobedience.
  • Among the most underappreciated qualities of a great scientist is the willingness to look foolish.
  • To an engineer, understanding means taking it apart and putting it back together again.
  • Pull over Push
  • The logic of pull would be that supply shouldn’t even be generated until demand has emerged.
  • Instead, it is built on a platform of “rough consensus and running code,” the motto of the Internet Engineering Task Force,
  • “Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information.”
  • But serendipity is not luck. It is a combination of creating a network and an environment rich with weak ties, a peripheral vision that is “switched on,” and an enthusiasm for engagement that attracts and encourages interaction.
  • Favoring the compass over the map also allows you to explore alternate paths, make fruitful use of detours, and discover unexpected treasures.
  • If the system were mappable, it wouldn’t be as adaptable or as agile.
  • research group now known as the Lifelong Kindergarten, which generally furthered Papert’s vision of children using technology to expand their knowledge and powers of expression.
  • It is nearly impossible to have a detailed plan when leading a complex and creative organization like the Media Lab.
  • Instead of rules or even strategy, the key to success is culture.
  • It is more of a system of mythologies than some sort of mission statement or slogan
  • It informed Nicholas Negroponte’s admonition to “Demo or Die,” and it also informs Joi’s call to “Deploy.”
  • The “buy low, sell high” version of higher education is to try to find emerging fields where you have an unfair advantage and a passion.
  • Disobedience, especially in crucial realms like problem solving, often pays greater dividends than compliance.
  • Nobody has ever won a Nobel Prize by doing what they’re told, or even by following someone else’s blueprints.
  • This approach to work and to learning—probing, questioning, disobedient—helped create the Internet, and it is also changing industries from manufacturing to security.
  • In the industrialized, mass-production society of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, only a small number of people were supposed to be creative—the rest were simply expected to do as they were told.
  • simple design flaw—no letter encoded by an Enigma would ever be encoded as itself.
  • At the Media Lab, the favorite opener of any story is, “It turns out that…,” which basically means, “We were wrong in this cool way.”
  • but sometimes we have to go to first principles and consider whether the laws or rules are fair, and whether we should question them.
  • In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. —Yogi Berra
  • Students do not take science class, but “The Way Things Work.”
  • Neither do teachers organize the curriculum into “units” on, say, rocks and landforms. Instead there are “quests” and “missions” that culminate in a “boss level,”
  • Putting practice over theory means recognizing that in a faster future, in which change has become a new constant, there is often a higher cost to waiting and planning than there is to doing and then improvising.
  • Estonia, which provides free Wi-Fi to every nook and cranny of the Baltic state, in 2012 started teaching its first graders to code.
  • Education is what other people do to you. Learning is what you do to yourself.
  • effectively marshal the diversity that exists across a
  • there’s a positive correlation between successful solutions and what the researcher, Karim Lakhani, calls “distance from field.”
  • World War II, Homo sapiens’ terrible object lesson in national sympathy run amok.
  • Intervening responsibly meant understanding the role any innovation would play in a much larger system.
  • like DonkeyNet (yes, literally using donkeys to provide “drive-by” Wi-Fi for remote communities)
  • It will take many more technological breakthroughs before AlphaGo will be interested in going to nightclubs or running for office.

Book: Innovators by Walter Isaacson

“How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution”

Walter Isaacson’s journey over the past few years adopted a particular theme: He wrote biographies of famous inventors and in the result – he learned a lot about how innovation happens. He started with Benjamin Franklin, later continued on with Einstein, Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci and now he published Innovators.

All of the amazing people described in Innovators were brilliant, capable and extraordinary. But what we quickly find out is that innovation does not happen in vacuum. It is a collaborative process, that requires a melting pot of creative energy to come up with something good.

„Creativity is a collaborative process. Innovation comes from teams more often than from the lightbulb moments of lone geniuses.”

Amazon link

But the idea itself is not enough – it’s fragile after birth and requires a nourishing ecosystem. Technical prowess is not enough – product sense is key to to success and business-savvy is what makes the neat hack a real breakthrough.

We learn the same thing from Outliers by Malcom Gladwell and Loonshots by Safi Bahcall. The lone genius myth is an unproductive and a false one. Innovation is a result of serendipity that can be designed.

Also, damn, the years of early computer innovation were wild, fun and exciting!

“Ready or not, computers are coming to the people. That’s good news, maybe the best since psychedelics.”

A final note: My grandfather is an engineer and a former jet test pilot. This book brought him immense joy. I don’t know if it’s drugs, the early computer revolution (which he had no part in since he was in Poland) or some other part of his youth. But it was really heartwarming to hear him speak about sheer genius of the people in the book.

My Highlights

  • Lady Byron wanted to make sure that Ada did not turn out like her father, and part of her strategy was to have the girl rigorously study math, as if it were an antidote to poetic imagination

  • He prescribed Euclidean geometry, followed by a dose of trigonometry and algebra. That should cure anyone, they both thought, from having too many artistic or romantic passions.

  • The marriage was a match made in rational calculus.

  • Alan was conceived in Chhatrapur, India, and born on June 23, 1912, in London, while his parents

  • “Alan was slow to learn that indistinct line that separated initiative from disobedience.”

  • “A physicist is one who’s concerned with the truth,” he later said. “An engineer is one who’s concerned with getting the job done.”

  • The machine’s calculations were combined with the labor of more than 170 people, most of them women, known as “computers,”

  • problems. I could switch my vocabulary and speak highly technical for the programmers, and then tell the same things to the managers a few hours later but with a totally different vocabulary.” Innovation requires articulation.

  • “Grace was a good man,” he declared

  • and then accepted her point. Von Neumann could listen well, and he had also mastered the ingratiating art of feigning humility.

  • Edward Teller had devised a proposal for a hydrogen bomb, dubbed “the Super,” in which a fission atomic device would be used to create a fusion reaction. To determine how this would work, the scientists needed to calculate what the force of the reactions would be at

  • Edward Teller had devised a proposal for a hydrogen bomb, dubbed “the Super,” in which a fission atomic device would be used to create a fusion reaction. To determine how this would work, the scientists needed to calculate what the force of the reactions would be at every ten-millionth of a second.

  • the proprietary model produced companies that were so entrenched and defensive that they would miss out on the personal computer revolution in the early 1970s.

  • “One day ladies will take their computers for walks in the park and tell each other ‘My little computer said such a funny thing this morning!’ ” he japed in 1951.

  • example of teamwork, of brilliant individual contributions, and of the value of basic research in an industrial framework.”36 That precisely described the mix that had become the formula for innovation in the digital

  • Indeed, there was a symbiotic relationship between the advent of the transistor radio and the rise of rock and roll. Elvis

  • As happens in many biographies, there was also the theme of living up to a late father.

  • Understand which industries are symbiotic so that you can capitalize on how they will spur each other on.

  • “As [the company] has grown larger and larger, I have enjoyed my daily work less and less,”

  • Robert Noyce took this culture to the next level. To understand him as a manager, it’s useful to recall that he was born and bred a Congregationalist. His father and both grandfathers were ministers of the dissenting denomination that had as its core creed the rejection of hierarchy and all of its trappings.

  • The more open and unstructured a workplace, he believed, the faster new ideas would be sparked, disseminated, refined, and applied.

  • “His heroes had a strong tendency to get pursued by the villain across the galaxy and have to invent their way out of their problem while they were being pursued.

  • Proudly nerdy, they reconstituted themselves into the Hingham Institute Study Group on Space Warfare, and Slug Russell proceeded to code.

  • Russell later admitted, “I looked around and I didn’t find an excuse, so I had to settle down and do some figuring.”

  • Innovation can be sparked by engineering talent, but it must be combined with business skills to set the world afire.

  • “We hired her from the topless bar down the street,” Bushnell recounted forty years later to an audience of earnest high school students, who seemed somewhat baffled by the tale and unsure what a topless bar was.

  • When he built a new engineering facility, he decreed that it should have its own hot tub. “It was a recruiting tool,” he insisted. “We found out that our lifestyle and the parties were hugely good for attracting workers

  • At its core were certain principles: authority should be questioned, hierarchies should be circumvented, nonconformity should be admired, and creativity should be nurtured. Unlike at East Coast corporations, there were no fixed working hours and no dress code, either for the office or the hot tub.

  • Innovation requires having at least three things: a great idea, the engineering talent to execute it, and the business savvy (plus deal-making moxie) to turn it into a successful product.

  • “I am proud of the way we were able to engineer Pong, but I’m even more proud of the way I figured out and financially engineered the business,”

  • The creation of a triangular relationship among government, industry, and academia was, in its own way, one of the significant innovations that helped produce the technological revolution of the late twentieth century.

  • On October 4, 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite. The connection that Bush had made between science and defense was now twinkling in the sky every night.

  • With his wry sense of humor, he began referring to his vision with the “intentionally grandiloquent” phrase “the Intergalactic Computer Network.”

  • “All the other parents had to take what they got, but I was chosen. That probably gave me an undeserved sense of confidence.”

  • Instead he had a trait that was just as useful in promoting collaborative creativity and managing a team: he was decisive. More important, his decisiveness was based not on emotion or personal favoritism but rather on a rational and precise analysis of options.

  • It also helped him accomplish one of the most important tasks in building a network: getting everyone to buy into the idea.

  • building a military communications system that would survive an enemy attack. He knew that such a system could help prevent a nuclear exchange, because if one side feared that its communications system could be knocked out it would be more likely to launch a preemptive first strike when tensions mounted.

  • Internet’s creators preferred—to use the metaphor of the Internet itself—a system of fully distributed credit. They instinctively isolated and routed around any node that tried to claim more significance than the others.

  • One of the commonly accepted narratives of the Internet is that it was built to survive a nuclear attack. This enrages many of its architects, including Bob Taylor and Larry Roberts, who insistently and repeatedly debunked this origin myth.

  • It would route around any damage from a nuclear attack but also around any attempt to impose control.

  • discovered a verity that would remain true even in the age of digital social networks: it was useful—and fun—to get together in person, interfacing in the literal sense of that word.

  • NASA was able to send a man to the moon. Engineers in Silicon Valley were able to devise a way to put a programmable computer on a chip called a microprocessor. And ARPA created a network that could connect distant computers. Only the first of these (perhaps the least historically significant of them?) made headlines.

  • Engineering Task Force, put it, “We reject kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code.”

  • The combustible combination of creative writing, dropping acid for pay, and working as an orderly in an asylum led to his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

  • Kesey used the proceeds from his book, combined with some acid he had been able to liberate from the CIA experiments, to form a commune of early hippies called the Merry Pranksters.

  • Lewis Mumford warned that the rise of computers could mean that “man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal.”

  • over the course of many decades. “The counterculture’s scorn for centralized authority provided the philosophical foundations of the entire personal-computer revolution,”

  • “The freaks who design computer science” would wrest power away from the “rich and powerful institutions,” he wrote.

  • “Ready or not, computers are coming to the people. That’s good news, maybe the best since psychedelics

  • Alan Kay, who would later advance each of these ideas at Xerox PARC, said of Engelbart, “I don’t know what Silicon Valley will do when it runs out of Doug’s ideas.”

  • That is why Engelbart, even though he was a prescient theorist, was not truly a successful innovator: he kept adding functions and instructions and buttons and complexities to his system. Kay made things easier, and in so doing showed why the ideal of simplicity—making products that humans find convivial and easy to use—was central to the innovations that made computers personal.

  • launched a publication called the People’s Computer Company, which was not really a company but called itself one in honor of Janis Joplin’s band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. The scraggly newsletter adopted as its motto “Computer power to the people.” The first issue, in October 1972, had on its cover a drawing of a boat sailing into the sunset and the hand-scrawled declaration “Computers are mostly used against people instead of for people; used to control people instead of to free them; Time to change all that—we need a PEOPLE’S COMPUTER COMPANY.”81 Most issues featured lots of line drawings of dragons—“I loved dragons ever since I was thirteen,” Albrecht recalled—and stories about computer education, BASIC programming, and various learning fairs and do-it-yourself technology festivals.

  • string techs and engineers, and its other offbeat folks—including a prim and proper lady who sat up front who had been, I was later told, President Eisenhower’s personal pilot when she was a male,”

  • “The dystopian society envisioned by George Orwell in the aftermath of World War II, at about the same time the transistor was invented, has completely failed to materialize,” the historians Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson wrote, “in large part because transistorized electronic devices have empowered creative individuals and nimble entrepreneurs far more than Big Brother.”

  • “When you use a computer, you can’t make fuzzy statements. You make only precise statements.”

  • The mission: to drive the new PDP-10 as hard as they could and as long as they wanted, programming and playing on it nights and weekends, to see what things they could do to make it crash.

  • What particularly amazed Russell was Gates’s ability to associate different types of error with specific programmers back at DEC headquarters.

  • “I swore off computers for a while, and I tried to be normal,” said Gates. “I decided to prove I could get all A’s without ever taking a textbook home. Instead I read biographies of Napoleon and novels like Catcher in the Rye.”

  • He was also able to put himself into a history class with all the right girls and only one other boy (“a real wimp”) and make sure that he and his senior class friends had Tuesday afternoons free.

  • “Insert quarter, avoid Klingons.”

  • “There is something indefinable in an entrepreneur, and I saw that in Steve,” Bushnell recalled. “He was interested not just in engineering, but also the business aspects.

  • “The goal was to give the user a conceptual model that was unsurprising,” Frankston explained. “It was called the principle of least surprise. We were illusionists synthesizing an experience.”

  • Doing anything new at the company, he complained, seemed to require three hundred people working three years.

  • With a coder’s subtle humor, Stallman created a recursive acronym for his new operating system, GNU, which stood for GNU’s Not UNIX.

  • Linus Torvalds’s father was a Communist Party member and TV journalist, his mother a student radical and then print journalist, but as a child in Helsinki he became more interested in technology than in politics.

  • “The best and most effective way to lead is by letting people do things because they want to do them, not because you want them to.”

  • “I don’t like single-issue people, nor do I think that people who turn the world into black and white are very nice or ultimately very useful.

  • Fortunately, AT&T’s effort backfired. A federal appeals court dismissed the company’s claim, and the barriers to jacking into its network began to crumble. It was still illegal to connect a modem into the phone system electronically, but you could do so mechanically, such as by taking your phone’s handset and cradling it into the suction cups of an acoustical coupler.

  • “Tim’s not in it for the money. He accepts a much wider range of hotel-room facilities than a CEO would.”

  • “By the power vested in me by nobody in particular,” Andreessen began, “alpha/beta version 0.5 of NCSA’s Motif-based networked information systems and World Wide Web browser, X Mosaic, is hereby released.”

  • When he asked what it meant, he was told that wiki was the Hawaiian word for quick, and wiki wiki meant superquick.

  • When asked later whether having parents who were professors was a key to their success, they both cited going to Montessori schools as a more important factor. “I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world and doing things a little bit differently,” Page contended.

  • ‘Having a healthy disregard for the impossible.’

  • As the journalist Steven Levy pointed out, this feedback loop helped Google learn that when users typed in dogs they also were looking for puppies, and when they typed in boiling they might also be referring to hot water, and eventually Google also learned that when they typed in hot dog they were not looking for boiling puppies.

  • When Page and Brin realized that it was time to put aside plans for dissertations and leave the Stanford nest, they found a garage—a two-car garage, which came with a hot tub and a couple of spare rooms inside the house—that they could rent for $1,700 a month at the Menlo Park house of a Stanford friend, Susan Wojcicki, who soon joined Google.

  • In other words, the future might belong to people who can best partner and collaborate with computers.

  • creativity is a collaborative process. Innovation comes from teams more often than from the lightbulb moments of lone geniuses.

  • Even though the Internet provided a tool for virtual and distant collaborations, another lesson of digital-age innovation is that, now as in the past, physical proximity is beneficial.

  • Another key to fielding a great team is pairing visionaries, who can generate ideas, with operating managers, who can execute them. Visions without execution are hallucinations.

  • Innovation is most vibrant in the realms where open-source systems compete with proprietary ones.

  • Most of the successful innovators and entrepreneurs in this book had one thing in common: they were product people. They cared about, and deeply understood, the engineering and design.

  • The converse to this paean to the humanities, however, is also true. People who love the arts and humanities should endeavor to appreciate the beauties of math and physics, just as Ada did. Otherwise, they will be left as bystanders at the intersection of arts and science, where most digital-age creativity will occur. They will surrender control of that territory to the engineers.

  • They consider people who don’t know Hamlet from Macbeth to be Philistines, yet they might merrily admit that they don’t know the difference between a gene and a chromosome, or a transistor and a capacitor, or an integral and a differential equation.