February 1, 2024
The world is getting better, if you are not convinced, look at apples
While it's often perpetuated that everything around us is deteriorating - be it the economy, societal norms, rising crime rates, or a nostalgic reference to the good old days - the truth suggests otherwise. The stark exception to this, of course, remains climate change. When one looks past the doom and gloom, in actuality, many aspects of life are improving. Yet, these enhancements often go overlooked. We are quick to dwell on the negative and arguably even quicker to romanticize a past that might not have been as rosy as we remember. This skewed perspective calls for a shift in narrative.
Fast forward a couple of decades and the landscape of apple consumption has transformed dramatically. Apples aren't just a mandated daily dose of fruit anymore; they have become genuinely enjoyable. The commercial introduction and success of the Honeycrisp cultivar has led to a significantly expanded the apple portfolio on store shelves, all of which are superior to the lackluster Red Delicious.
Apples are no longer reluctantly eaten, but rather a sought-after delicacy. The increase in available apple diversity sparked by Honey Crisp has astounded consumers, each variant objectively superior to its Red Delicious predecessor. My favorite example of these improved offerings is the GoldRush - a distinctive yellow apple scattered with lenticels. Its unique blend of crisp texture and complex acidic flavor that gradually sweetens over months of being stored in the fridge. It was once believed that developing better apples was an impossible task. Today, this has turned into a productive communal endeavor. Platforms like YouTube now host a thriving community of individuals dedicated to enhancing apple quality collectively through backyard projects.
Practicing gratitude for these progressions, regardless of scale, might just empower us to undertake the bigger and more complex tasks that demand attention and improvement.
January 1, 2024
Fighting Climate Change is not like running a marathon, and playing with Generative AI
In the grand scheme of things, marathons are easy. All it takes is physical fitness, and a few months of miserable training. Then, in a few hours, it is all over, and you are sore for a week. In addition to the relative amount of effort needed to run a marathon compared to that required to put climate change in check, marathons are an individual effort whereas climate actions must be collective. A different analogy is needed, and the difficulty of finding one may partially explain the persistence of the marathon version. To help develop alternative analogy concepts, I had a conversation with UM-GPT, a generative AI produced by and for the University of Michigan. It made various suggestions including running a relay race, and playing a symphony, which I briefly critique below:
The Relay Race Analogy:
While the suggestion of a relay race is an improvement over the marathon concept because people have to work together, and tasks must be handed off, it too suffers from ending quickly. Additionally, the goal of the relay race is to beat all of the competitors, where in climate change, everyone running the race is in it together.
The Symphony Analogy:
The symphony overcomes the competitive problems of most people losing, but again, it has a definitive end point. It does, however, show multiple people as individuals (musician) and groups (sections) doing their own distinctive parts, but the whole thing was preordained by the composer. My interpretation would be that with the slight modification to “fighting climate change is like playing in a jam band” would overcome many of these problems with the exception of its lack of seriousness. The jam band fosters innovation, makes the world a better place, and is more likely to avoid burnout of its participants than running sprints on the track team.
The utility of GPT: UM-GPT and other generative AI platforms as of now cannot produce a blogpost that would be worth reading, without putting more effort into creating prompts and making corrections than just writing the thing oneself would require. Its usefulness was in providing me help with brainstorming ideas that led to the jam band version. That is how GPT is useful today. If you are interested in what UM-GPT thinks about the jam band analogy, I have had it construct a response on that which I am including unedited with all of its flaws below:
Title: The Global Jam Session: Understanding the Concerted Action Needed to Address Climate Change
Climate change--it's a predicament that demands collective, persistent, and cohesive action around the globe. The task is less like a predetermined marathon composed of an absolute beginning, middle, and end, and more like an impromptu jazz jam session, where every player tunes in, improvises, and contributes to the ensemble's rhythmic harmony.
Confronting climate change isn’t about personal triumph, quick completions, or competitive spirit as in a marathon. Instead, our worldwide jam session calls for dynamic adaptations, innovative thinking, and environmental commitments that transcend national boundaries. While individual actions can slow the rate at which our global situation worsens they don’t comprise standalone solutions. So, as a collective, we aim higher. We catalyze change from the ways we power our homes to corporate operations, from local town planning to international carbon emission agreements. Each contribution adds a unique note to our harmonious refrain.
This shift in perception doesn't discount individual roles. As players in this global jam, our unique contributions are intrinsic to our collective resonance. We are all accountable, especially governing authorities and corporations, and our actions reverberate louder together, helping to shape greener laws, cleaner technologies, and more sustainable practices.
Engaging with climate change, we unite as band members, improvisers joined by a common purpose. Our shared challenge is the unsustainable practices of our past, not each other. Each player brings their unique creativity to this musical improvisation, allowing our efforts to respond dynamically and harmoniously to the shifting climate narrative.
Though our shared jam session requires monumental effort and resilience, hope and unity strike a palpable chord of optimism. As we strike up notes of determination, action, and commitment, we realize there’s no competition here, only shared progress. Our shared melody promises the beautiful symphony of a healthier, more sustainable world.
In the impromptu global jam session of addressing climate change, it’s about every note played, every minor shift of rhythm, every chorus of an innovative technology or sustainable practice. Our communal goal plays out like a rhythmic arrangement, constantly adapting and evolving. Not a frantic race to a finish line, but a meaningful and persistent jam session, ultimately birthing a melodious symphony of progress. Together, we’re making music, performing harmoniously, and improvising for a sustainable future, setting the stage for generations to come.