A lot has changed this year.
From Entrepreneurship to Research
I started the year set on committing to the path of entrepreneurship. I ended it as an AI safety researcher. What can I say? Priorities change.
One day you may be sold on the earning-to-give route (or — if you're feeling cynical — the social status accompanying entrepreneurship and philanthropy). The next day, you're sold on maybe preventing powerful AI from causing the demise of humanity (or the social status accompanying AI safety research within the EA bubble).
Social status dynamics aside, it's a better fit. Working on Health Curious (the company I founded) made me feel like my brain was shrinking. I just wasn't built to spend my days writing React apps.
Meanwhile, I've always been fascinated by AI (and have always contorted my physics degrees into excuses to study NNs). Research keeps my curiosity levels far better satiated. I also didn't have anything near this healthy a support network while working on my company.
I'm happier, more focused, and working far more productively. If anything, my life has gotten much easier and better since it's gotten less balanced. Having the one overarching priority of "solve alignment" makes taking any kind of decision much easier.
I still think founding some kind of a research organization might very well be in my future. I like working with people and working on big-picture strategy. There's a big premium on that kind of thing in technical AI safety (considering we're a bunch of nerds).
Goals for 2022
Overall, I'd say my goals for 2022 had about a 50% success rate. It's that low mainly because they were bad goals that didn't suit the person I ended up becoming.
Or maybe that's just my coping strategy.
- 🛑 No more scrolling (YouTube, Reddit, Porn, etc.):
- Complete failure. I even ended up joining a new platform (Twitter).
- 🚪 Screen time:
- I'd call this a success. My screen time for my phone is about an hour. For my computer, it's atrocious, often upwards of 8-10 hours. But hey, it's my job, so I accept it as the price of admission.
- ⏲ Self-monitoring:
- Altogether a success. My main innovation was getting on Linear and building an integration with Toggl, so that my tasks are automatically time-tracked. This meant I didn't have to do much thinking to log my time, which is the best way to make sure it actually gets logged.
- There's definitely room for improvement: I'm not actually doing anything with the information. I think the most natural way to address this would be to build a little dashboard for all my sources of data.
- The other main room for improvement is that there's always more I could track: I didn't manage to track additional media consumption beyond books.
- 📚 Books (1 book per week):
- I didn't get anywhere close to my goal of 50 books this year, at least as logged on Goodreads (it says 22). In terms of total volume, however, I think I far exceeded last year. The discrepancy consists in, e.g., Worm being listed as a single book (at 6,680 pages, about 1.5 times the Harry Potter series), and most of my reading consisting of textbooks and papers.
- The bigger failure is that I didn't meet most of the particular categorical targets I set (in terms of, e.g., reading X books of a specific language, X books by Y author).
- Just goes to show that optimizing the wrong metric is stupid.
- 🗃 PKM:
- Bit of a failure. My personal knowledge management is a mess in need of a thorough cleaning.
- ✍️ Writing:
- I missed a few of the targets, but I'm overall happy with what I've published.
- The main new thing I'm trying to do is publish my own notes on a given subject.
- 🗣 Languages:
- I learned Portuguese to a pretty high level, but I've given up on German (for the time being), and now accept that I will lose my bet with my roommate on reading Faust in the original German by my 25th birthday. I've also seriously fallen behind on the Mandarin.
- The bigger problem is that I've had trouble keeping my Anki habit active. For a period of about 6 years, I did Anki pretty much every day, and I need to get back to that commitment, not just for languages, but for everything in my brain.
- Oh, and I didn't meet any of the specific create X flashcards targets. They were too ambitious.
- 🏃 Moving
- I stopped diligently trying to close my Apple Watch rings. Bad Jesse. And I've been bad about walking. But overall, my fitness has been pretty good. It really peaked in Brasília when I was doing pilates every day and the pilates instructor was this demon sent from the seventh circle of hell to torture us with her core wrath.
- As for the other subgoals, I can manage a 15s or so handstand, but the 30s is not quite there yet. And I've stopped doing my Kegel exercises — the non-ejaculatory orgasm will have to wait.
- 🍽 Fasting
- I love food too much to make myself not eat for a full day every month. So I'm going to stick to the 16/8 that has served me well for years.
- 🌏 Diet:
- I've become progressively more and more vegetarian, and I think it's about time to make the full plunge.
- 👓 Myopia:
- Nope. Didn't make progress here. But that's also because I stopped putting much effort into this.
- 👥 Relationships:
- This is where I've had the most success. I've found a network of people doing the same things I'm doing, and I'm now doing the programs that will get me where I need to be. I have a research mentor and plenty of other guidance to help me along the way.
- 💰 Money:
- Between the SERI MATS stipends and the FTX regrant (which I may ultimately have to repay), I'm doing well. My partner and I are financially and locationally independent.
My takeaways for next year are to set fewer goals and to allow myself more freedom within the goals (e.g., don't try to prescribe a list of the exact authors I'm going to read). I ended up constraining myself more than was useful, and setting goals for things that weren't actually priorities. Lessons learned.