Farewell to Berlin

I am leaving Berlin after over a decade.

It was a place where I arrived as a young, clueless intern who was torn, tempted, and at times overwhelmed by everything the city had to offer.

It’s where I started my professional adventure by getting to sleep on a stinky mattress in a tiny room in Kreuzberg, in marihuana-infused flat (courtesy of my flatmates), working 12-14 hours per day for 400 euro monthly.

It was a place where I had flatmates who were trainee doctors, opera singers & astrologists, aspiring rap-singer & stripper, local activist and fellow Polish immigrant who became a good friend.

It was here, where on one of the first parties I got to drink anise-based drinks from a bottle with a scorpion inside (and that’s one of the less weird things I tried).

It was here where I while being an intern, I stood up to a Managing Director, looked her in the eye, said “This was a bit disrespectful towards Polish and not cool”… and still managed to get promoted later.

It was here where I got to know the real deal behind startup safari, the hustle, the chaos, the politics.

It was a city, where I landed two dreams jobs ( beating 150 other candidates at one), got promoted three times, but also failed to succeed two times at other projects.

It was a city, where I co-founded a software agency, which almost had a shot.

It was here where I met my Wife.

It was here, where we first saw each other on Alexanderplatz.

It was here where I jumped off the roof of RadissonBlu Hotel, on a rope, with a rose and a ring in my hand to propose to Her.

It was here, where one joke of pastor would stumble, stutter, and eventually refuse to bless our relationship because of my Catholic faith.

It was here, where we met an amazing Priest, who himself had had Protestant & Catholic parents, and who would agree to take us for marriage preparation classes.

It was here, where we went for our engagement dinner in George Clooney’s favourite steakhouse and ate the best and most overpriced steak in my life.

It was here, where I got to directly participate in the most horrifying and yet most joyful moments in my life; the birth of our two sons.

It was here, where in one of the flats my neighbours would shout at me from a balcony each time I parked my car not exactly straight.

It was here, where in front of the same flat, a circus would set up and let the camels lose to eat grass in front of our terrace.

It was here where I bought didgeridoo for my musician bro who played it later on a Warsaw Autumn Music Festival.

It was here, where I saw UFO (for real!).

It was here, where I bought my first car and got it crashed.

It was here, where I drank gluhwein on Christmas market, smoked shisha in Arabic bar with my Muslim colleagues, drank Polish vodka with a good Friend at midnight at Brandenburger Gate.

I came to Berlin lonely, estranged, anxious. I was an intern, who had big dreams, who believed in myths, legends & fairy tales such as One Love that conquers all.

In the decade that came, that was all put to a hard test.

Berlin was my trial through fire.

I never ditched my beliefs and I remained out of place.

Thank God for that.

So Berlin is a city which I will remember well, yet which I am glad to leave behind.

Goodbye Berlin.

Been a hell of a ride.

I am off at the next stop.

Resurrecting the dead with AI vol.2 – “Project December “

In my previous post I touched o the subject of AI and Virtual Reality technologies intertwining with the realm of the dead and causing quite understandable confusion among the living…

Algorithms are being used to mimic deceased persons, and the simulation is being done either i na form of animated 3D models or semi-intelligent chatbots.

Not long after I finalized my post, a new case emerged in the internet describing an experiment in which a grieving man encountered hi dead fiancée “resurrected “ in a form of a chat bot.

A detailed case study of that disturbing story has been published in San Francisco Times and it’s definitely a captivating read.

A program nicknamed“ Project December“, has been silently released to the public and the consequences of it are at the center if that story.

“Designed by a Bay Area programmer, Project December was powered by one of the world’s most capable artificial intelligence systems, a piece of software known as GPT-3. It knows how to manipulate human language, generating fluent English text in response to a prompt. While digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa also appear to grasp and reproduce English on some level, GPT-3 is far more advanced, able to mimic pretty much any writing style at the flick of a switch”

Now imagine a young man getting hold of this program one evening and thinking;

“What if I would feed the algorithm with some of my fiancé’s Facebook and whatsApp messages? Would the end result be a chatbot with a “ soul”?

Would I be able to talk to Samantha, my fiancée again?”

Sounds like a movie scenario?

Far from it.

As the creator of the program Jason Robert explains it;

Rohrer felt a stab of sympathy for Samantha, and it made him realize that A.I. technology had crossed a threshold. (…) “It may not be the first intelligent machine,” Rohrer said. “But it kind of feels like it’s the first machine with a soul.”

Full story here:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2021/jessica-simulation-artificial-intelligence/

AI meets (cheats?) death

We are slowly getting used to the fact that AI is becoming present in almost every aspect of our life. But what if it also becomes present in our… death?

Microsoft recently patented a method of capturing people’s social media legacy and transcribing it into a chatbot. In other words; AI could simulate deceased people based on their digital footprint.

The technology allows mimicking persons personality, so that a digital simulacrum can be created. After all, we leave so much data in form of pictures, videos, WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts, you name it, that it is more than enough for the algorithms to forge our personality.

Of course such technology would possibly not only be restricted to dead people. Yet, the latter seems particularly morbid.

As we read in the source article;

“Specifically, Microsoft could use images, voice data, social media posts, text messages, and written letters to “create or modify a special index in the theme of the specific person’s personality”

(More here: https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/robots/a35165370/microsoft-resurrects-the-dead-chatbots/ )

To put it bluntly; instead of old-fashioned spiritistic session with candles now a smartphone with a chat application will do the job, so that we can speak to the dead.

Sounds eerie?

How about a full “digital resurrection” in VR? Imagine putting on a headset a having your deceased loved ones just few clicks away.

Well, you do not have to imagine that. It is already happening.

In South Korea a documentary titled “I Met You” tells a story of a mother’s reunion with her daughter. What made this reunion special was the fact that it took place in a carefully designed scene inside VR studio and that one of the participants was dead.

Nayeon, who died at the age of seven, was one the children of Jang Ji-sung, a woman depicted in the documentary.

Producers recreated digitally child’s facial features, motion and speech patterns.

The virtual model of a Nayeon, was not only animated but also allowed simple interactions such as holding hands. It took several months of preparation so that the grieving mother would have one last chance to say goodbye.

The result is equally chilling as it is mind boggling. In fact you can watch it yourself, but I have to warn you; this is possibly one of the most disturbing and intense things that you will see in a while;

Video: Mother meets her deceased daughter through VR technology

So what is next?

Full body human replicas as in “Black Mirror” episode ” Be right back”?

Specially customised NPCs in role playing games who are based on our social circle, to perfectly simulate people we already know?

One thing is certain, the progress in AI technology will force us, as humanity to keep asking very basic questions about what it truly means to live, and what it truly means to die.

“Choose your damn sacrifice” & other lessons from Jordan B. Peterson

Jordan B. Peterson’s books are at the top of my shelf, just next to G.K Chesterton and C.S Lewis.

They call him controversial. They call him dangerous. Mainstream press (or should say “presstytutes”?) line up in forming all kinds of tactics aimed at discrediting him.

They really don’t like what he has to say.

And the reason is simple.

That’s because we already reached the times of which Orwell spoke in his famous quote:

“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”

Dr. Peterson’s “12 rules for life” is a treasure chest of great lessons. Some are new and some are the ones, we always knew yet needed to be reminded of.

I could write long essays on how they resonate with me & how they helped me in some of the toughest moments of my life. But that’s story for another time.

There is one common theme, that is at the core of Jordan B. Peterson’s writings.

His relentless pursuit of the Truth.

Since writing my thesis (more than a decade ago) on methods of influence and manipulation and their ethical aspect, this is the theme that I can relate to on deeply personal level.

So for those of you who do not know Peterson’s writings really well I highly recommend that you disregard everything you heard about him in media, just grab his “12 lessons for life” and start reading it.

But for start if you are not up for such a big leap, a brand new opportunity has arrived. Official channel of Jordan B. Peterson just posted a well animated video which illustrates some of his essential ideas.

The animations are brilliant and on the point, much like Dr. Peterson’s lectures themselves.

I would not recommend to treat the video as a ‘ersatz’ to the proper thing which are his books.

But surely it is a great, short & crisp introduction to what he has to say.

And to start understanding why it is so damn important.

True meaning of reality can be found in silence. Thoughts from my retreat in the forest.

There is that house on top of the hill in southern Poland. It towers above the village, yet it remains hidden in the embrace of the forest. The branches of nearby trees stretch above its roof, as if nature is crawling back in, to reclaim the land that once belonged to it.

Although this scenery seems like from a gothic story this house brings the emotions which I will always associate with peace, harmony and respite.
My family owns this place, it has become our holiday retreat, and for me personally; a sanctuary.

Each day, just at sun dawn I would run into the woods behind the house, climb up the hill, off the beaten path and sit on the grass.
I would close my eyes.
And breathe.

Photo from authors library

This is how I remind myself of what is real.
This is how I remind myself of those grim times when the urban life has entangled me and brought me down to the brink of depression. When I was burned out, when toxic work environment and “startup way of life” got me immersed in pointless masquerades.
I remember, those times well, when I got lost in the crowd of new humans, and almost lost view of the reality.

In this age of abundance of information the most scarce resource is the Truth

Quid est veritas?” – asks Pilate.
What is truth? he ponders, while the Truth stands right before him.
I can’t help but to think, that today it is the same for us.

What is truth? What is real?
As we delve deeper into the flashy distractions of modern “culture” and entertainment we lose the sense of what is real. Those things that make us human, that define human experience, that rawness of reality is something I have to rediscover deep in the woods.
Those precious moments can be seen and heard only in silence.

Chop wood, plant trees, cut grass, gather mushrooms, shoot a bow, take my kids for a hike through the woods, teach them to walk in silence and show them how to observe the wildlife. Drink some coffee with friends from the village; old-fashioned people who value work of their hands, who toil in the fields, who have not yet been immersed in the noise of the Metropolis.

I see the dichotomy, the growing rift between those people and the ones whom I met when living in Big Cities such as Berlin, Paris or Dubai. It is almost as if there are two species living in parallel worlds.

There is the homo sapiens, and there is this new human.
The first one is of the old world, the latter is of the Brave New World.
The new human is not taught to create but to consume.
The new human trades elusive goals of long term effort for pleasures of immediate gratification.

Nurtured by fabricated food, educated by video entertainment, kept in darkness through constant exposure to blinding lights.
A new human thrives when facing a screen and navigates effortlessly through digital jungle yet remains helpless and lost when confronted with real life.
The new human is stripped of his identity, cut from his roots, detached from his legacy, even from biology.

The new human unlike the old one is not forged by constant values, but constantly morphs with ever changing trends and fashions.

The history of a new human is not written in stone, not even in paper but in wikipedia. The new human does not belong nor rely on a family, his sense of safety comes from an omnipresent embrace of the welfare state.

Family and marriage are redefined, blurred are the axioms, nothing is normal and everything is normal. You can’t observe reality for what it is, because you would become guilty of a mortal sin of being judgemental.
When everything is questioned, nothing is real.

But the Truth, has this one miraculous property that It always emerges, eventually.
And it leaves naked, those who try to suppress it.

All these thoughts ran through my mind as I was listening to the wind hustling through the tree branches, touching the moss, smelling the soil, cherishing the view of the bright blue sky above.
How foolish I was to ever lose sight of it?
I myself, came so dangerously close to becoming new human.
Thankfully, I was given that time of blessed silence so I could see what is real and what has a meaning.
I could step back and breathe again.

As C.S Lewis observed:

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.


Note: Burning pages is my attempt to capture some elusive thoughts and observations before they turn to ash.  Call it a journal if you want. 

Flame in the Schell