Micro Soft Brains And Saber-Toothed Stability
Learn how the principles of Occam's Razor, the Red Queen Hypothesis, and saber-toothed predators are applied to the tech world. Explore the implications of the ever-evolving tech landscape and how Microsoft is using their tools to make money off of developers. Discover the importance of having a diverse range of revenue streams and why Google's FOSS core of Chrome is being used by Microsoft in their Edge browser.
Discover the Innovator's Dilemma: How Saber-Toothed Stability Keeps Micro Soft Brains in Power
By Michael Levin
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Over the years one of the things that has bothered me about tech is that it feels like there should be something that is “best” or “right” or “optimal” or “the way”. But there isn’t. There’s just a bunch of people doing the best they can to make the tools they need to get the job done. The result turns out being something a lot more like evolution, with all our baked-in compromises, inefficiencies, and quirks. Gotta learn to know ‘em. Gotta learn to accept them. And in some cases, gotta learn to love them.
But most of all, you gotta learn to keep the messy landscape where everyone makes their own sausage or has a favorite from becoming too stinky and overwhelming. Everything’s a distraction. This article itself is a distraction. Folks are getting tuned into the fact that the only “objective” game out there is not even the stealing your money lining their own pockets as previously thought, but rather is the stealing of your attention. The only truly finite resource in your life is the time you have on this planet. It’s going to run out. In fact, it’s running out right now while you read this article!
And so you’ll hear a lot about The Attention Economy. THE GAME? Maybe. I do encourage you to keep reading, because making the most of your time is as much a qualitative thing as a quantitative thing, even though the Twitter, Google, Facebook and YouTube algorithms think it’s a money-making thing and not quality at all. E-E-A-T is short for EEAT SHIT. That’s because the supervisors of supervised learning… sigh, that’s another article. Back to the simulation…
So simulation or not, it absolutely is some sort of game. The work of John Forbes Nash Jr. as popularized by the Matt Damon movie A Beautiful Mind is a good place to start. The game is about the allocation of resources. And resources are not just money, but also time, attention, and even love. The intangible things that “green arrow hunters” have a problem with. They’re on the side of the binary. You either have it or you don’t. You either had a successful hunt and bring food home for the tribe and live another day, or you don’t.
The “blue water gatherers” are on the side of the analog. They’re the ones saying, “Hey, I know you didn’t bring home any food, but I found these berries that are edible, and I think I can make a paste out of them that will help heal your wounds.” The blue water gatherers are the ones who are going to provide all the little things that make up for binary thinking. One is not better than the other. Both are necessary, and indeed this duality of the more masculine leaning hyper-rational and the more feminine leaning hyper-emotional is reflected in the symbol yin-yang and the concepts of dualism throughout our culture.
Even the symbols of binary itself, the circle and the line, the open and the closed circuit, the 0 and the 1, the hoop that you roll along with a stick. The compass that lets you draw a circle, the Alpha and the Omega. It’s the Q continuum and runs deeper than you think. I mean, hey where don’t you see this duality? It’s everywhere. I often think the symbol for Pi should actually be a circle with a line through it, because it’s the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Am I right? Am I right?
Already such lofty thoughts starts to play tricks with our minds. Few scientists out there give warnings at this point to the unwary. They say, “Hey, the physical world shows us symmetry and beauty, and by applying the principles of Occam’s Razor (the simplest explanation is the best), we can guess that given the choice between a simple and a complex explanation, the simple one is probably the right one. But that’s not always the case. Only Sabine Hossenfelder warns us that beauty is not a good guide to truth.
But I’m not here to talk about physics. I’m here to talk about why the whole friggin world is jumping on the VSCode bandwagon. Why they’re paying their $100/year to use GitHub, and then another $100/year to have the OpenAI GPT-based Copilot in their VSCode writing their code for them. I’m here to tell you why that in order to stay compatible with any “office” document you may encounter, even full-time employees of companies that provide GSuite will still pay Microsoft another $100/year to use Office 365 (so they never encounter a document they can’t open), and how a dozen more little paths like this lead to more and more little bits of money you send to Microsoft.
I mean think about it. Think about how much money Microsoft really makes and on how many different fronts. Think about the diversity of their revenue streams and how when push comes to shove, you can live without all the free online products (where you are the product), because your ability to have economic value yourself in some other capacity than clicking ads is what really matters. What really matters is that you can make money, and that’s what Microsoft’s tools are geared all around.
Of course they keep themselves making lots of money too. And this makes you part of a bigger organism. You’re a cell in the body of Microsoft. You may think you’re a cell in the body of Google, but you’re not. How much do you really pay to use Google? How much do you really need what Google provides to continue making money? Google Search? Search is a commodity. You can get it elsewhere. Google Docs? You can get that elsewhere too. Once things are turned into commodities, they’re interchangeable.
And once things are interchangeable, they who control the cheapest, best, most well marketed hardware platforms win. That’s because of default settings, laziness, and attrition. Microsoft owns the desktop. But Google has Android… barely. It’s all Free and Open Source if you’re not using the Google Play Store. And we see over and over countries like China, India and Russia “making their own” Android, but it’s really just them forking the FOSS parts of Android and replacing the Google Play Store with their own.
This echoes what’s going on today with Google having made the Chromium FOSS core of their Chrome browser free and open source, and now Microsoft dumped their old Internet Explorer for the Chromium core and call it Edge. Similarly, the user interface components of Chrome were extracted into a separate project called Electron, and now Microsoft has their own Electron-based VSCode. VSCode, their greatest tool to rule the hearts and minds of developers, was snatched right out of the FOSSY hands of Google.
And where did the inspiration to steal so creatively come from? Well, for only $7.5 Billion dollars, they bought the cool hangout of the FOSS community, GitHub. Github had this text editor called Atom, and it was based on the Electron framework. And it was a great text editor, picking up all sorts of momentum and had a great plugin framework. The fullstack webdev sheep were really gobbling it up, replacing their Sublimes and Textmates with it. Microsoft promised they wouldn’t kill it, but… where’s Atom? Yoo hooooo? Atom are you there? Nope. It’s dead. It’s dead Jim.
Software evolutionary competition is a lot like the evolution of species. There’s about 200 amino acids of which only about 20 are used in the construction of proteins… life. Us. And of those 20, our bodies can only internally synthesize 11 of them. The other 9 we have to get from our food. It is not common for a single food source to provide all 9 of these essential amino acids… so we hunt. Hunting is the masculine side of the binary. It is a cheat. It is a shortcut. And it is yummy and our bodies know it. That’s why we’re so addicted to meat.
The honest truth is that if you’re clever enough, you can get all 9 essential amino acids from combining the right plants. You know, like peanut butter and bananas. But that’s a lot of work so nobody wants to do it. Even given the fact that hey, maybe you can stop hunting and killing and consuming the flesh of other creatures that display emotions, have higher social orders that look a lot like ours, and are quite definitely suffering. It’s so horrible, life gives us a mechanisms to cope with it called shock. They prey is shocked into reducing the unbelievability of the situation and the tribe becomes callous to the suffering of the prey.
Same with tech. Funny thing is that unlike in nature with the most successful designs becoming medium-sized omnivore generalists, like us (we humans, we’re medium-sized omnivore generalists), tech is leaning big. Shall we call them uhhh, I don’t know, maybe big tech.
The most successful designs in big tech, I mean the really massive oracles, the machines so big they’re international… they’re big saber-toothed tigers. Some diversify their diet and survive, but lose those long fangs and downsize in the process. Some even sneak into our homes and instead of eating us, pretend they’re our babies by purring. But the story of Cuckoos, these cunning masters of misdirection is fodder for another day. Back to cats…
Specialization means big and vulnerable. Specialization means predatory and sneaky. In nature animals that can take down incredibly large prey so that their tribe can feast for days while they themselves put in the least amount of effort are saber-toothed. It’s the basic ambush predator life-template and strategy of alligators and bobbit worms. Want some nightmares? Google bobbit worms.
Saber-toothed tigers are everyone’s favorite example, but that’s only one example, and there’s more than one of those that separately re-evolved! It’s not just the saber-toothed tiger. There’s, Smilodn populator (the largest), S. fatalis (the most famous), and S. gracilis (the smallest). And it’s not a continuous line of evolution from one to the other. Nature tries to wipe out the saber-toothed tiger design over and over again, but the fangs came back the very next day. The fangs came back, we thought they were a goner. But the fangs came back; they just won’t stay away.
Nature produces big deadly fangs. And not just in cats. Back when giant reptiles roamed the Earth… what? Dinosaurs aren’t reptiles? Yeah I know, I mean before that. Yeah, I know there were also saber-toothed dinosaurs but I don’t want to talk about them. I want to talk about the Gorgonops.
Back in the time before the dinosaurs and before mammals, nature showed us that plain ol’ reptiles could fill every niche in the ecosystem from voles to vultures. There were giant reptiles that ate plants, and there were giant reptiles that ate other reptiles. And there was the Gorgonops.
Google Gorgonops! These things were the size of a bear, and they had saber teeth. They were the apex predators of their time, and they were everywhere. If you’ve ever heard stories of dragon bones making people pretty sure dragons existed, they’re probably Gorgonops fossils. They were the most successful design of their time. They lived in the Late Permian (Wuchiapingian) about 250 million years ago. To put that in perspective, that’s half-way between what we call the Cambrian Explosion that created many of life’s major body plans, and today. The extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago is still today.
If not for some great unknown catastrophe, we would probably all be descendants of the Gorgonops. In SciFi and Hollow Earth rants (rants even worse than mine, I assure you), you’ll find this concept recurring as the Silurians hypyothisis. What? No, it’s from Dr. Who, the Saurians are from Startrek and have really good brandy. Well yeah, they look alike but… Overlords like in Inside Job? No, that’s nutter David Icke’s lizard people, and I resent that an antisemite gets all the credit… Lovecraft? Nash himself? Sigh… Forgive them, God. No, the lizard people concept goes back to the dawn of time, or at least the 2002 book An Instinct for Dragons that says so.
Saber-toothed predators are the most successful design in nature. They bring down big prey fast, and they can eat for days. Lizards, snakes, cats, walruses and warthogs? Oh deer! Yes, even deer can be saber-toothed. But some of them funky tusks are sexual dimorphisms and not for hunting, those posers (I’m talking to you, Walrus). This is why Lewis Carroll chose the walrus for his utterly important-to-read instruction-manual for life, The Walrus and the Carpenter.
The Sun was shining on the sea, Shining with all his might: He did his very best to make The billows smooth and bright– And this was odd, because it was The middle of the night. No, not the Disney version. That’s good too, but read the real thing. The walrus is always hungry, always mating, and talks fierce talk! All bluster and self-indulgence, but no bite, those Walruses. But the ones that are packing the real thing are the most successful predatory design in nature. Evolution likes it so much, it keeps bringing it back.
However, this comes at a cost. They are large, they require a lot of food, and that food is of a certain type. They are not generalists. This makes them vulnerable to changes in the environment. If the environment changes, they can’t adapt. This is called the Red Queen Hypothesis. It’s named after the character in Alice in Wonderland who says it takes all the running you can do, and you’re still not going to get anywhere pitted against an ever-evolving opposing species. I’m paraphrasing a bit. Another way of looking at it?
Okay, saber-toothednes is a great innovation. But it’s not unique. Happens a lot in nature. Take the saber-toothed tiger… what’s that? Which one? Oh yeah, there were lots. It’s like the web browser. Got a good idea and it’s going to spontaniously reoccur in… oh, I don’t know a MOSAIC of different species. There’ll be Geckos that Blink and Flow like some Servo. Presto! Another saber-toothed browser engine. It’s so innovative, you might call it a dillemma. The innovators dillema. The innovators dillema is that you can’t be a saber- toothed predator and a generalist at the same time. You have to choose.
If you innovated saber-toothedness, and the environment changes and your main prey the mammoth goes extinct, you’re screwed. You’re a saber-toothed tiger without a meal. That’s kinda like what would happen if the Search Generative Experience (SGE) cut off AdWords revenue. I mean it’s not like Ad revenue is Google’s only source of income. It’s only 60% to 80% of their income. And if B follows A, well… you know your alphabet. It goes: A, B, C, D, E you’re F’d. Won’t you come evolve with me? Viva la vimsolution!
Not everyone evolves so easily. When you’ve come to rely on that one trick, that trick of taking down big prey with your specialized saber toothed adaptation, you don’t want to change. You want to keep doing what’s worked for you. THAT’S the innovator’s dilemma. You’re a saber-toothed tiger, and you’re not going to change, but by sticking to your teeth, you’re going to go extinct. Not a google position to be in. It’s like you’re a giant living in a castle built on clouds and commith Jack with an axe.
Everyone’s gonna say Jack don’t know jack because in everyone’s lifetime of experience they’ve never known any other way. I mean 25 years of Top-10 Blue Links domininance?!?! I myself based a career on it. But every year, I’m like: “Well, this is a fun game of Jenga, but I’m not sure how much longer this can go on.” But I don’t know jack. Everyone loves a Saber-toothed tiger. It makes for a great mascot and the fans are going to cheer the hunt. “Take down that mastodon!” yell the monkeys who are quite glad those teeth are adapted to large prey. They wouldn’t bother coming after us, think the monkeys in the arena. Good thing we’ll never run out of mastodons.
Monkeys might be easy prey, but we’re slim pickings. But just like buffalo wings that became so popular in economic downturns, because you know why waste all that meat when you just eat a lot of them. What’s that? The mastadons are gone and monkeys are everywhere? “Why waste all that meat?” says the cats.
The cats will always eventually realize we’re yummy prey. We’re everywhere and don’t have much in the way of claws or fangs or even shells to cover our tender insides. If you’re a sneaky, cheating, shortcutting, lazy, loophole-finder of a cat, you’re gonna maka meata ball outta me. But as any good Arthur C. Clarke reader (you don’t even have to read!) knows, when a monkey picks up a bone, watch out!
We don’t need claws or fangs or shells. I’ll make my own damn claws, thank you very much. In fact, instead of you stealing my 9 essential amino acids, I’ll just steal your 9 essential amino acids. Comeuppance and turnabout is fair play. And if saber-toothedness and claws and fangs in general characterize the geniuses that are felines… I mean the felis genus… then what characterizes us generalist monkeys is our delight in using tools to achieve comeuppance and turnabout. No, not just use tools, but to use tools with make-a-joke-of-thy-enemy ironic overtones. That’s what makes us monkeys. Monkeys throw poop. Never forget that.
When a tribe of humans team up to make a tool that everyone else uses, they’re aggregating the wealth of everyone choosing to use that tool and redistributing that wealth among it’s shareholders and family… the tribe.
Employees share in the spoils too? Hahaha! Are you kidding? Maybe the top officers, but not the employees who are usually, as with customers, also on the receiving end of the ironic joke (unless they have an enlightened stock-matching program—shout-out to you, V!). The employees of OpenAI? They’re brilliant but low-paid college grads looking at your prompts and performing supervised learning. They are the supervisors of the supervised learning, all paid-for by these geniuses’ parents.
I mean think about it. Open AI hires smart college grads, all ripe with that CompSci juice, fresh for the squeeeeeezing into a learning model… that’s part of the joke of the tribe leaders. Their low-paid employee’s parents paid for their kids to ripen up and go work for them at almost no money… for the honor and privilege of working where they’ll get experience and a good keyword on their resume, in exchange for an unfair exchange of value. Those Y-Combinator cats are geniuses.
They can go off and start their own companies, you say? Are you kidding? What is a lone hunter without a tribe? Maybe if you’re Sam Altman and run into Paul Graham one day and he says: Hey! You’re a smart kid. I’ll give you a million dollars to start a company. No, that’s a kind of lottery that motivates the poor listeners of talk-radio to be Republicans. The truth is in a Peter Drucker sense, that smart people are better off trading a portion of their potential in exchange for an organization to do payroll, staffing, and all those other pesky things that’ll ruin you. Not everyone’s cut out to be cut throat… I mean run their own business.
So there’s the usual Peter Drucker Knowledge Worker trade-off. But then there’s incubators, where instead of tit for tat, these really smart get work on the hackernews feed that they should go work at this really cool place called Y Combinator. The Y? Oh, that stands for Yahoo, but Yahoo sounds uncool so we hide it as the symbol for the macho macho Y-chromosome. Why? Well to hypnotize and befuddle them, of course! Does everyone get a million dollars to start up in this lovely cozy incubator? No, no, no. Just the ones who are already rich. The rest get about $5,000. Those are the ones we squeeze like lemons—letting them believe they’re in charge until one of them takes off. Then we assert our control.
Wait, are you saying an incubator like Y-Combinator that can lead to things like OpenAI are just as bad as their “big tech” enemies? Why yes! Of course they are. There is no “little guy” in this picture but you. We’re actually quite big and have a pretty big axe we’ve been grinding for awhile now. The world doesn’t know jack, but the world is getting to know Jack… as it teams up with Microsoft carrying that very big OpenAX, “And now we’re chopping that Google beanstalk, Morty! We’re chopping away at it until it comes tumbling down out of the sky, Morty!”
The next line is either: “Now go away kid, you bother me.” or “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Let’s go on an adventure, kid” based on who you are.
There is a very important cartoon to watch that I’m referring to here. It’s Ben Levin’s Craig of The Creek with this enemy band of children who live… what? Oh, oh right!
No, it’s a book I’m actually referring to, friends. That underrated but up in the ranks with 1984 and Brave New World book by Ira Levin is This Perfect Day. It’s everything that Craig cartoon is plus a bag of chips. That’s because Craig draws maps and Chip draws maps too. Or at least he finds and reads them.
Chip is a chip off the old block, the old block being his grandfather in this idyllic perfect future. But grandpa remembers the old days. The old days when people were free to choose their own jobs and their own mates. The old days came before Ray Kurzweil actually figured out how to shove his soul up Bing’s butt. Nobody really knows this happened, because that’s the nature of wealth and power. But clues are left, because even the Illuminati needs new blood. 2nd generation Illuminati are the worst. Up on hobnail boots, down on silk slippers, and all that. Smart people know that and recruit accordingly.
This one I won’t spoil for you, because it’s such a short and great read. It’s so much more entertaining than the ones given all the credit, like 1984 and Brave New World. In some ways, it’s almost as good as Animal Farm as a fun read. It uses all the best techniques, like schoolyard poetry propaganda to indoctrinate young:
Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei,
Led us to this perfect day.
Marx, Wood, Wei and Christ,
All but Wei were sacrificed.
Wood, Wei, Christ and Marx,
Gave us lovely schools and parks.
Wei, Christ, Marx and Wood,
Made us humble, made us good.
Sounds good, right? Well to the developing mind it is! It has the seratonin producing effect of a nice warm fire, a full belly, and a good night’s sleep. Ahhhh. Four legs good, two legs baaaaad.
SciFi writers get it. Even the term SciFi is a misnomer. Harry Seldon from Amsimov’s Foundation series has a much better name for it. Harry is a psychohistorian. He’s a psychologist who uses math to predict the future. He calls his field “psychohistory”. SciFi should be called “psychohistory”.
The whole genre is about predicting the future. Well, sometimes it can be woven into the story of people too. If you care much about the predictions, it’s called “hard” SciFi. If you care more about the people, it’s called “soft” SciFi. You’ve got your Asimovs, Clarkes, Stanislaws and Vinges all doing the math, such as it were. And you’ve got your Heinleins, LeGuins, and Anthonys.
What? Piers Anthony who did the Xanth series? Yes’s a silly fantasy writer, but he wrote the unsettling Bio of a Space Tyrant series. I mean talk about hard SciFi, phwew! Piers s piercing. He’s one of those minds that really “goes there”. He’s a misogynistic, racist apologist and you shouldn’t read him.
From Piers’ works, you can learn how to think in extremes, but always act in moderation. If you think what you’re doing is fine and that and think you are a nice person, but people aren’t responding to you that way, well maybe your version of acting in moderation is still other peoples idea of extreme. That’s the kind of themes Piers explores. He’s a master of the “what if” and what if’s can be like horror movies. Do not read Bio of a Space Tyrant.
Okay, okay, pant, pant, pant… it’s 6:45am and this time I want to wrap up my rant… I mean my Federalist Papers… I mean my daily Magnum Opus before the work day begins. Did I mention “hard” and “soft” SiFi? Well, when it comes to my SEO work, building up a critical body of material like this is the “soft” work. It comes easy to me after a lifetime of science fiction reading and a decade of vim practice. The “hard” work is the subject of the next article, which sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do.
It’s a monumental task. It is my job to demonstrate how to whip around terabytes… no indeed petabytes of data like it’s silly putty in your hands. Make visualization, analysis, and reporting of it as if it were mere megabytes of local data. I have to do this in a way that is self-motivating. I have to find the love in it, otherwise I’ll never amp myself up to do it. My credibility’s on the line, and htis is the other side of the yin-yang. We can’t always be the feminine, creative, and nurturing side. Sometimes we have to be the masculine, destructive, and competitive side.
Deep within my heart and soul… oh, just go look at my homepage.