Venkatesh Rao Profile picture
12 Oct, 27 tweets, 6 min read
Web3, AI, metaverse... all the post-weirding tech booms are just... weird. They are intrinsically harder to grok than previous generations. There's no good way to ELI5 any of them.
Technically, all this is beyond the ability of the average teen on the hacking side, unlike previous generations where you could get into the engineering side with basic high school skills and knowledge. You either need to be a prodigy or older, like ~22
While impressive, this side is more like being good at twitter on web2 and building geocities pages on web1. It's geeky early adopter user skill rather that may or may not lead on to skill on the other side of the fence. Necessary but not sufficient.
Ie, it's not just age. The tech is itself more complex. There's just a lot more to understand before you get to a usable level of working knowledge, either as a user or a builder.
Random aside... I think people give kids too much credit. There's certain advantages to being 14 that make certain things go much faster, but it's not some sort of state of divinely innocent supergenius for all. Most are just some early version of their future mediocre selves.
Yeah yeah holy war school is a prison that destroys kids blah blah soap box...

...but don't let criticisms of schooling fool you into thinking everybody would be a genius if it weren't for school ruining their beautiful little minds

It's the same spread of idiots every cohort
Anyhow... all this stuff needs like an order of magnitude better toolchains and conceptual simplification before us mediocrities of any age grok it well enough to create gdp on it
Sorry but this is a cope. Facebook and twitter are "cultural" too and I immersed and got good at them, but I'm not fooling myself that I get how to build complex web platforms because I speak emoji-english pidgin reasonably fluently
Everything is both technological and cultural in nature, and I'm enough of a tech determinist to believe that the interesting and high leverage stuff is happening at the tech foundations. The culture layer is merely where most are able to participate.
tldr -- this wave of tech is just more complex.This will have implications...

A good metric would be something like: ratio of web browser users to home page builders in 1999

vs.

Ratio of people running full bitcoin nodes vs. simply holding a bit of crypto in coinbase
Or for ML:

ratio of people who run PyTorch inference on datasets vs. people who use an app with "AI" in it that does something like age your face

Or for metaverse, ratio of people who can make a 3d model of even like a cube, vs. people who play a game in 3d.
I bet you, the ratio of people with a minimal entry level of producer skill to people with consumer skill is way off for this generation of tech compared to previous

So asymmetry between high and low leverage ends of the tech is higher
Not least because you even need more powerful compute to run any of it. Most consumer laptops would choke on most of the "producer" side skills I listed. And knowing how to run it on GPUs on the cloud is far harder than ftping a .html file to geocities
Interesting btw, that all these new technologies need GPUs/tensor computing at a fairly powerful scale as a pre-condition of participation on the producer side... it's no longer cheap either
People pointing me to various learning resources— To be clear I don’t think it’s just me not having figured it out. I don’t think anyone has. It’s like the web circa 1994. Nobody had yet put the pieces together in a workable tech+box configuration.
It’s mainly crypto people protesting 😂

AI and metaverse people seem more comfortable with not having it all figured out yet. All 3 are at the late experimental stage. Cusp of arrival but IMO not there yet.
I have non-trivial stakes in 2 of the 3 (web3 and AI) and trying to develop one in the third (metaverse). The one I was personally most interested in a few years ago (IoT —> AVs —> robotics) is the runt of this litter. I first flagged the set in 2017 studio.ribbonfarm.com/p/the-anatomy-…
Reason I mention stakes, which I rarely do, is that true believers are exhausting. They think anything short of 100% enthusiastic belief is techlash-grade commie hostility. If upside scenarios don’t pan out I’ll lose more than most. That’s cause to be more rigorous, not less.
This is partly why I tend to actively work on the quietest active fronts, and stay largely passively invested on the more frenzied ones. Right now the quietest active front is robotics. There’s a ton of interesting things happening but fortunately no crazed true believer crowd.
In a way robotics doesn’t belong in this cohort. It’s the equivalent of mobile for web1/2. Once web3, metaverse, and AI get to a point of development, the iPhone of robots will become possible. In the meantime, enjoy Boston dynamics dancing robots and early IoT/internet-of-shit.
The cost and performance on batteries, motors, sensors (esp vision), hydraulics is almost there. What’s missing is robot-social-media (web3), better brains (low-cost ML hardware), and environment (metaverse… robots will live in suitable VR+AR simultaneously)
Btw I think “metaverse” is here to stay, much as kids might ridicule it as boomerverse. The terminology of AR/VR/XR/MR was floundering because the device level is the wrong level for visioning. Metaverse is “smartphone” grade cringe, not “info superhighway” grade cringe.
I suspect it will come together in the way streaming did, not as a frontier but in a way where incumbents ally with high-value back-catalog owners to create properties. Linden labs approach relied too much on created content. Extending movie and gaming universes will be easier.
I think the equivalent of website will be “ride”

As in the initial metaverse will look like an Internet of digitized theme parks.
I think metaverse narrowly viewed as a Facebook idea is vaporware, likely with some cynical calculations attached, but industry wide (include Microsoft, Nvidia, Disney, gaming studios) there’s a there there. I’d point to Pokémon Go as the genesis event.
The biggest difference between this tech wave and the last few is the radically darker societal context. On a scale of -10 to 10 of broader pessimism to optimism:

PC: 4
Web: 8
Mobile+cloud: 6
Web3+AI+Metaverse: -4

Covid+climate+culture war+inequality = nasty global environment
It’s the “into darkness” tech wave. A dark age tech wave. Part grimdark part hopepunk.

Pity “dark tech” already has a different conflicting meaning.

Need a good name that’s not “4th industrial revolution” or “second digital revolution”

Gaiatech? Cavetech? Doomtech? Hopetech?

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More from @vgr

10 Oct
Interesting media futures question: is the age of organic virality over?

Things like bad art friend seem closer to high-budget summer blockbusters or prestige TV shows.

Great for fiction, but for nonfiction, it’s like gain-of-function media virality experiments.
I think we’re at the “reality tv” type moment for textual media.

N=2 theory but… Bad Art and Cat Person suggest an intriguing link between what someone aptly dubbed ‘surveillance fiction’ and gain-of-function viral derived stories about the authorship. google.com/amp/s/www.prec…
Ie A stalks B and writes a cunningly undisguised bit of fiction about B, it gets discovered and fuels a second-order non-fiction viral story that makes author kinda notorious and committed addicts will pay to read all about. True pseudoevent within paywalled pseudoreality
Read 4 tweets
10 Oct
I think I the last few years I’ve become a Type of Guy.

“Type of Guy who once wrote 1 good thing and is now no longer worth taking seriously but not yet irrelevant enough to casually antagonize”
Kinda hilarious to reflect on the trajectory.

Unknown —> Obscure —> Sui Generis —> Type of Guy —> Relic.

There’s 5 more stages between SG and ToG that I never attained enough altitude to hit:

Kinda Famous —> Sell-Out —> Actually Famous —> Mimetic Target —> Has Been
Read 7 tweets
10 Oct
What places constitute a pilgrimage for you, and what’s the underlying spiritual theme (which can of course be literal religion)?

List at least 4 places, and call out the ones you haven’t been to.
Specific and typically once in a lifetime places only please, not general types of places you find offer spiritual succor. Mecca isn’t the same as the neighborhood mosque.
Mine is big scientific instrument infrastructure sites. Been to CERN, Mauna Loa, Mt. Wilson, Greenwich. Hope to visit Mt. Palomar, LIGO. Missed Arecibo when I visited Puerto Rico and now I regret it :(

Still on list: Chile telescopes, polar research stations, oceanography ships
Read 12 tweets
10 Oct
Thinking about why I dislike some bold interpretations of classics (Downey Sherlock, Peter Jackson Hobbit, Dirk Gently) and like others (Cumberbatch Sherlock, Foundation). Some I had to have think before I decided (Whedon Star Trek: dislike).

I think I know now.
A good reinterpretation tends to have genuine affection for the original’s intentions and aims to correct both context drift and skill deficits. It’s like art restoration. Where the equivalent of dirt, grime, and fading paint is narrative “dirt” of context drift and medium shift.
A bad one cynically uses the popularity of the original to make money or pursue unrelated intentions. Often while maintaining a higher cosmetic fidelity.
Read 5 tweets
9 Oct
I’ve run this theory that the grass is no longer greener anywhere by multiple people recently and all agree. There’s no X such that moving to X feels like an unambiguous net improvement on all major fronts. It’s always sharp trade offs now. Geographic arrival fallacies are dead.
Culture works differently when restless people who are unhappy where they are can believe in “grass is greener” effects. Life has a spatial gradient to it. A directional tendency to disaffected dislocation drifts.
Never go full Pareto? 🤔

Maybe that was our problem before. No place can actually bear the burden of being a Mecca for too long. Revealing that actual Mecca is a mostly uninhabited desert most of the year except for a few days during hajj
Read 5 tweets
1 Oct
Search term “supply chain” is revealing. Strikes me that this is the first true supply chain crisis of the post-containerization era. It’s more unprecedented than Covid itself. Both qualitatively and quantitatively.
Trade is at ~3x levels of gdp since last comparable global supply chain crisis (WW2) and works differently (containerization)
Is it fair to conclude from trade to gdp ratio that on average everything has 58% foreign content?

This metric understates the severity btw because it doesn’t include domestic supply chains. The non-local fraction of all consumption is probably ~90%.
Read 4 tweets

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