The Overton window of weirdness is opening

18.13, Friday 21 Jun 2024

The future could get weird quite quickly.

I mentioned a few of these in my Milan talk about dreaming and hallucination…

Such as Figure which is making AI-powered humanoid robots. It’s not super hard, it turns out. Once the mechanical stuff is done, the rest is software. And as I mentioned AI agents for instruction following are really easily.

So how long before I can say hey siri make me a table and it gives me a list of things to approve, then shows a shopping list and asks for my credit card number, and then it just does the rest overnight. No more Ikea.


I’m not sure whether Project CETI, the project to listen to and translate the communication of sperm whales, will bear fruit.

But I would purchase the heck out of a book of cetacean poetry.


A Dyson sphere is a speculative structure built by highly advanced alien exocivilisation: instead of a planet, a vast shell built around a whole star to capture its entire energy output.

People have been looking for aliens by looking for the energy signatures of Dyson spheres: there are seven strong candidates.

(They’re not using my technique of counting white dwarfs. Do you have data? Let’s try it.)

So maybe we’ll have proof of aliens soon.


LK-99 was a bust. But it renewed interest in room-temperature superconductors. What if they find one and then we’ll have abundant energy and quantum locking hoverboards.


There’s a pair of AI-stabilised supercharged shoes called Moonwalkers and, when you walk, you move at the speed of a sprint.

The reviews seem good:

It’s like being on those airport walkways that move you along just that little bit quicker

$1,399 is a little steep but… prices come down, right?


In the Vesuvius Challenge, researchers are using AI to decipher a library of scorched papyrus scrolls buried in the ancient city of Herculaneum.

So far they’ve decoded 1,000 words and now we know exactly where Plato was buried.

There are many, many scrolls to go.

The end of the Middle Ages, the beginning of the early modern period, the European Renaissance:

The Renaissance’s intellectual basis was founded in its version of humanism, derived from the concept of Roman humanitas and the rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy.

So maybe we have another one of those to look forward to.


There is an Overton window of weirdness, which I will define here as the range of things on which it is acceptable to spend one’s time, and when it is narrow we are optimisers, and when it is wide there is a societal random walk and discoveries are made, which might be mundane or might be profound, robot shoes and aliens, and whether you’re working on personal weird art or unsettling product design or speculative plasma physics it doesn’t matter, I celebrate you, you’re contributing to the opening of the window, thank you, we will all of us benefit. There are cathedrals everywhere for those with the eyes to see, as they say.


Podcast

Oh! I wrote that piece about Douglas Adams era technology back in February.

I was absolutely honoured to be invited by Sam Arbesman to speak about it on his new podcast, The Orthogonal Bet with Lux Capital.

Here’s the newsletter announcement with more:

We latched onto Matt’s recent essay about a vibe shift that’s underway in the tech world from the utopian model of progress presented in Star Trek to the absurd whimsy of Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Along the way, we also discuss Neal Stephenson, the genre known as “design fiction,” Stafford Beer and management cybernetics, the 90s sci-fi show Wild Palms, and how artificial intelligence is adding depth to the already multitalented.

Listen to the episode here.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it by email or on social media. Here’s the link. Thanks, —Matt.