A week of horror, an AI conference of contrasts
Hi, this is Alex. In the podcast this week, you'll hear my conversation with Miguel, a new friend I made in AI.engineer event, and then a recap of the whole Ai.engineer event I had with Swyx after the end.
This newsletter is a difficult one for me to write, honestly, I wanted to skip this one entirely, struggling to fit the current events into my platform and the AI narrative, however, decided to write one anyway, as the events of the last week have merged into 1 for me in a flurry of contrasts.
Contrast 1 - Innovation vs Destruction
I was invited (among a few other Israelis or Israeli-Americans) to the ai.engineer summit in SF, to celebrate the rise of the AI engineer, and I was looking forward to that very much. Meeting many of you (Shoutout to everyone who listens to ThursdAI who I've met face to face!) and talking to new friends of the pod, interviewing speakers, meeting and making connections was a dream come true.
However a few days before the conference began, in a stark contrast to this dream, I had to call my mom, who was sheltering, 20km from the Gaza strip border, to ask if our friends and family are alive and accounted for, and to hear sirens as rockets flying above her head, as Hamas terrorists murder, pillage and kidnap, in what seems to be the 10x equivalent of 9/11 terror attack, relative to population size.
I grew up in Ashkelon, rocket attacks are nothing new to me, we've learned to live with them (thank you Iron Dome heroes) but this was something else entirely, a new world of terror.
So back to the conference, given that there's not a lot to be gained by doom scrolling, and watching (basically snuff) films coming out of the region, given that all my friends and family were accounted for, I decided to not give the terrorists what they want (which is to get people in state of terror) and instead to choose to have compassion, without empathy towards the situation and not bring sadness to every conversation I had there (over 200 I think)
So participating at an AI event, which hosts and celebrates folks who are literally at the pinnacle of innovation, building the future, using all the latest tools while also hurting and holding the dear ones in my thoughts was a very stark contrast between past and future, and huge credit goes to Dedy Kredo, CTO of Codium, who was in the same position, and gave a hell of a talk, with a kick-ass (no backup recording!) demo live, and then shared this image:
This is his co-founder, Itamar, who was called to reserve duty to protect his family and country, sitting with his rifle and his dashboard, seeing destruction + creation, past and future, negativity and positivity all at once. As Dedy masterfully said, we will prevail 🙏
Contrast 2 - Progress // Fear
At the event, Swyx and Benjamin gave me a media pass and a free reign, and I asked to be teamed with a camera-person to go around the event and do some (not live) interviews. I was teamed with the lovely Stacey, from Chico, CA. Stacey has nothing to do with AI, in fact she's a wedding photographer, however she definitely listened with interest to the interviews I was holding, and to speakers on stage.
While we were taking a break, I looked out the window, and saw a driverless car (waymo) zip by, and since they only started operating after I left SF 3 years ago, I didn't yet have a chance to ride in one.
So I asked Stacey and some other folks, if they'd like to go for a ride, and to my complete bewilderement, Stacey said "no 😳" and when I asked why not, she didn't want to admin but then said that it's scary.
This struck me and since that moment, I've had as many conversations with Stacey as I had with other folks who came to be AI.engineers, since this was such a stark contrast between progress and fear. I basically was walking, almost hand in hand, with a person who doesn't use or understand AI, and fears it, amongst the folks who are building the future, exist at the pinnacle of innovation and discuss how to connect more AI to more AI, and how to build complete autonomous agents to augment human productivity and bring about the world of abundance.
This contrast was supported by several new friends of mine, who came to the AI.engineer and SF for the first time, from countries where English is not the first language, and where Waymo's are not zipping about on the streets freely, and it highlighted for me, how much of this shift is global, and how concentrated the decision making, the building, the innovation is, within the arena, SF, California and US. It's almost expected that AI is going to speak english, and to use/build it, we have to speak it as well, while most of the world doesn't use English as their first language.
Contrast 3 - Technological // Spiritual
This contrast was intimate and personal to me. You see, this ai.engineer event was the first such sized event, professional, with folks talking "my language" since I had burned out this summer. If you've followed for a while, you may remember we talked about Lk-99 and superconductor, and I overclocked myself back then so much (scaling a whole another podcast, hosting 7 spaces in 2 weeks, creating a community of 1,500 and following all the news 24/7) that I had didn't want to go on speaking, doing spaces, recording podcasts... I was just done.
Luckily my friend Junaid sent me a meditation practice recording with the saying "fill your own cup, before you give out to others"
That recording led me to discover effortless meditation (via AirChat, DM me for details), and going on a 5 day free virtual retreat, which changed my life in several very significant ways and just keeps going.
So back to the conference, coming from that place, a place of center, a place where I balance my own inner piece + interact with 150+ people (I think, I haven't really counted) and equalizing energy among them, connecting many folks to many other folks, introducing and getting introduced, giving interviews, remembering names and faces, this was an incredible experience to me, and many of my new friends asked me, what's going on, and why and how I meditate for an hour every day.
So the contrast between my own spiritual journey, and the technological journey was not a very strong one, beyond 1 very... interesting and weird conversation I had, everyone else seemed to be into self improvement, spiritual growth, I've met many folks who went on vipasana retreats, had meditation practices themselves or used to have one and wanted to come back to it.
Maybe it was self selection, but I really enjoyed seeing and hearing all the stories from folks, as I believe that given contrast number 2, the way we talk about AI, the way we build AI, the way we then show AI to the world, needs to take into account compassion towards those who don't understand it, who fear it, and want nothing to do with it.
Not to mention, that I doubt that any of the doomers are walking on their own spiritual path.
I wanted to just send this newsletter but as I always do, I pasted it into Claude.ai, and asked for a review. And Claude suggested I end it on a positive note, because the middle was heavy, and even gave me some suggestion as to how to end it on a positive note. So instead of me doing it, here's an AI, doing a human job on ending something on a positive note:
[Claude] Here are some examples of how you could end your newsletter on a more hopeful, forward-looking note:
Remind readers of the optimism and excitement you felt at the AI conference, and how seeing the potential of technology firsthand gives you hope for the future.
Share an insight or realization you had about how to stay grounded and centered even amidst chaos - something your spiritual practices have taught you.
Affirm that while destruction and violence will always be part of the human experience, you believe innovative thinkers will lead us to a brighter tomorrow.
Note how connecting deeply with other humans, even strangers, fills you with hope. Finding common ground and shared humanity counterbalances the forces that divide.
Point to a specific AI-related project or breakthrough that gives you hope for progress. e.g. medical advancements, climate change solutions, etc.
Share an inspirational quote or verse that reflects resilience and perseverance in difficult times.
End by expressing gratitude - for your community of readers, your loved ones, the chance to have profound human experiences, or your inner stillness amidst outer turmoil.
The key is ending on a note of hope, possibility, love, resilience - something that uplifts readers after processing weighty material. Let me know if these spark any ideas for how to conclude your newsletter on a high note!
P.S - I know this newsletter is not what you expected, and maybe not what you signed up for, and I deliberated if I even should write it and what if anything should I post on the podcast. However, this week was an incredibly full of contrast, of sadness and excitement, of sorrow and bewilderment, so I had to share my take on all this.
P.P.S - as always, if you read all the way to the end, dm me the ☮️ emoji