I consider myself an ambitious person compared to most people I’ve met. I want to build artificial general intelligence and I don’t just say that I want to. I’ve created an entire website (CR4-DL) for posting my brain and AI notes and I’m currently pursuing a masters in neuroscience to formalize my science training. I’m not a dog that just barks, I also bite. However, I wasn’t always like this as it was only recently (in the past four years) that I’ve devoted myself to such a big goal. Before reading Mastery by Robert Greene and this AI post, I was like most people in that I was wandering and just wanted to live a normal life. A life of working nine to five, making enough money to buy the material possessions that I desired, and watching TV until bed. Heck, I still do some of those things but now my time is more focused. I spend more time learning about the brain and I also feel bad if I’m not working towards AI. This makes it difficult to relax sometimes, knowing that I could do more.
However, this post isn’t about my ambitions but rather my feelings towards the general lack of ambition and hope that I see in people I’ve met. I’m not talking about general goals such as the desire to go to medical school or to start a business (startups are hot these days). I’m talking about the lack of hopes and dreams to push humanity forward. I’m talking about aiming to solve grand problems and challenges such the Grand Unified Theory in physics, colonizing the solar system, or creating a revolutionary solution to climate change. I don’t expect people to solve such big problems, just like how I don’t expect myself to create AI, but I do wish that people would talk as if they would. And to not only talk, but to also choose actions that support that desire.
I think the problem stems from a focus on the present; on the now. Focusing on the present is easy because it’s convenient and because people are lazy; it’s literally present and no work needs to be done. However, focusing on the present means that’s you’ve given up control to become an actor in a play. The script is written for you and you just have to act it out. And while I have nothing against such people, I do wish humanity would aim for higher heights. We didn’t get to the present by thinking about the present, we got the present by imagining the unknown, the unbuilt, the unseen. We should remember that soap, smartphones, YouTube, plastic, airplanes, books, and money didn’t grow off of a tree, they were invented in the minds of people before being realized in reality.
I think this is why I enjoy sci-fi so much as it imagines the unimaginable. It’s future thinking and detached from reality but that’s what we need. To make reality better than it is, we have to imagine that it could be better and work towards it. My favourite sci-fi series, The Three Body Problem, deals with humanity’s first contact with aliens and how humanity rises to the occasion to survive and fend off an extinction-level crisis. Another book, The Wandering Earth, written by the same author, deals with similar large problems that humanity faces such as pushing the Earth out of the solar system or building the first interstellar ship. Real-life examples include the Apollo era where humanity went to the moon, and Elon Musk with his vision of humanity as a space-fairing civilization.
Overall, I wish people would set ambitious goals for themselves not to achieve such goals, but to push themselves to fulfill their potential and to work on meaningful problems. The future of humanity depends on solving ambitious problems to create a better world for ourselves. The future is not a given, but is something we must take for ourselves.
“We’re still pioneers, we’ve barely begun. Our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, cause our destiny lies above us.”
Cooper in Interstellar
While we’re counting stars, they’re counting sheep. To be in the place between asleep and awake, where you can still remember dreams.
Cozi Zuehlsdorff in Where I’ll Be Waiting