Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Saturday 8 June 2024

So You Want To Build A Browser Engine

If you’re building a browser engine from scratch just for fun, stop reading now and I wish you the best. If you want to build an engine that’s competitive with Chromium, and surpasses it in some respects, here’s my advice.

Sunday 2 June 2024

Real-Time Settlers Of Catan

25 years on Settlers of Catan is still a fine game, but can be tedious when you have to wait for other players to take long turns. In our family we thought “what if Settlers had simultaneous time-limited turns?” We implemented it with a few rule tweaks and a free app written by one of my children. It turns out to work very well! Every experienced Settlers player we’ve played with so far has found it to be a great improvement over the original game. We can finish a six-player Cities and Knights game in about 45 minutes of intense fun.

Saturday 6 April 2024

Auckland Waterfront Half Marathon 2024

I did the Auckland Waterfront Half Marathon again today. I didn’t have as much time to train this year, partly because of the canoeing trip last week, and I ran it slightly differently — starting at a slower pace and trying to make sure I could run the whole way. I’m pleased I achieved that. My final time was just slightly slower than last year — 1:51:35, with a nice steady pace throughout the whole run, so I’m reasonably happy with that.

Thursday 4 April 2024

Whanganui River Journey 2024

The Whanganui River Journey is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” but actually a three or five day canoeing trip. We did it before in 2016, and I’ve always wanted to do it again. We have a lot of new tramping friends now so this seemed like a good time. We did the full five-day version from the town of Taumaranui, through Whanganui National Park and ending at Pipiriki.

Friday 8 December 2023

Rees-Dart Track 2023

After the Caples-Routeburn trip, seven members of the group took a shuttle back to Queenstown and then flew home, and the remaining five stayed on in Glenorchy. Saturday 18 November was a rest day; the weather was excellent and we did some short walks around Glenorchy — the lagoon walk was lovely. We also rendezvoused with our sixth group member and prepped for the Rees-Dart track starting on Sunday. I always really enjoy these rest days: time to reflect on the previous leg and relax with friends while still enjoying the anticipation of another imminent adventure.

Thursday 7 December 2023

Caples/Routeburn Track 2023

My traditional South Island tramping trip happened a bit earlier this year. We spent five days doing the Caples and Routeburn tracks, November 13 to 17, with a group of 12. Then six of us had a day off followed by five days on the Rees-Dart track, November 19 to 23. I’ll cover the Rees-Dart trip in a followup post.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Abel Tasman Kayaking

In October my Pernosco co-founder Kyle visited me in NZ for a catch-up and a holiday. Kyle had never been to the South Island in previous visits so we did a two-week road trip, Christchurch to Kaikoura to Nelson to Westport to Haast to Arrowtown to Twizel to Christchurch. It was huge fun and we fixed some gnarly rr bugs along the way, with the help of Intel’s Processor Trace.

Thursday 30 November 2023

Mount Pirongia 2023

Three months ago, September 2-3, I led a small group of friends up Mt Pirongia again. Again, we had a great time. This trip was initiated because one person whom I hadn’t tramped with before wanted to join my Rees-Dart trip this month (blog post forthcoming!) and I wanted to do a reasonably challenging one-night trip with them first.

Sunday 26 November 2023

Blog Migrated

I've migrated my blog off Blogger to a Github Pages (Jekyll) site. All the posts should still be at the correct URLs.

I'm not supporting direct comments anymore. HN, Reddit etc absorb most of the comment traffic anyway. Old posts have their comments preserved.

The main reason to do this is to ensure the longevity of the blog content. The new setup is simple and I can easily move the hosting elsewhere if Github becomes infeasible at some point. However, the immediate motivation for the move is that Google has stopped allowing updates to "classic" sites.google.com, which I was using as my CDN for images. I figured that since I had to change my setup anyway, I may as well do a complete migration.

Monday 3 April 2023

Why I Signed The "Pause" Letter

I work for Google, but everything here is my personal opinion, not Google's position.

I signed the "Pause" letter because I agree with what it says and I think the actions it advocates are very likely to be beneficial.

To be clear, none of the following are reasons why I signed:

  • Because I'm a fan of the Future Of Life Institute, Elon Musk, or any of the other signatories
  • Because I think the recommended pause would solve all our problems
  • Because I'm confident the pause will actually happen
  • To give academics time to publish papers (Scott Aaronson, this one's beneath you)
  • To build hype around large language models
  • To give some company an advantage over another company

Most of the arguments against a pause are very shallow, e.g. LLMs are a hoax; the proposed pause in giant-model training could lead to government regulation which is inevitably worse than any alternative; people want a pause because of risk X when they should be worried about worse risk Y; AI is so obviously super-beneficial that it's morally wrong to delay those benefits. The two strongest arguments against a pause, IMHO, are a) China and b) potential overhang.

Some people argue that a pause would give China a chance to overtake the rest of the world in AI, and that would be worse than not having a pause. I think that is very unlikely. Western-aligned countries together seem to have three big advantages: a lead in training large models, control over the manufacture and distribution of the most powerful GPUs and TPUs, and most of the world's best AI researchers. Also, from what I've read, the modern CCP is highly averse to social disruption, so I expect them to proceed carefully.

Another argument against a pause is that if we stop training giant models we'll continue to improve hardware and algorithms, so the next time we train a giant model there would be a discontinuous increase in capability, which would be worse than not pausing at all. It seems unlikely to me that this effect, even if it happens, would outweight the benefits of a pause.

Supporters of the proposed pause are motivated by different AI risks. In particular:

  • Some people, exemplified by Eliezer Yudkowsky, are convinced AI will inevitably destroy humanity due to the "alignment problem". I think that possibility has to be taken seriously — which alone is a good reason to adopt the "Pause" letter's measures (and more). Still, I doubt doom is guaranteed.
  • Some people are more worried about socioeconomic issues like potential mass unemployment. I think these issues, taken together, are also a sufficient reason to slow down AI development and mass deployment. When AI capabilities grow faster than people can learn new skills, we're pushing the limit of the rate of change humans can handle.
  • In between "social/economic adjustment" and "alignment extinction risk" are the risks of powerful AIs in the hands of malicious people. We have to learn to defend against the new generations of scams, hacks, warfare and other havoc that are coming, and again, this takes time.

I think all of these risks are valid concerns that warrant great caution and slower rates of change. I'd be delighted if we got the proposed pause. I don't think we will, but I hope that these issues get a lot more attention and we start taking government and self-regulation of AI seriously. It's absurd that we regulate food and drug safety but not AI.


Data Science
>>𝑊ℎ𝑒𝑛 𝐴𝐼 𝑐𝑎𝑝𝑎𝑏𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑒𝑠 𝑔𝑟𝑜𝑤 𝑓𝑎𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑟 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑛 𝑝𝑒𝑜𝑝𝑙𝑒 𝑐𝑎𝑛 𝑙𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑛 𝑛𝑒𝑤 𝑠𝑘𝑖𝑙𝑙𝑠, 𝑤𝑒'𝑟𝑒 𝑝𝑢𝑠ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑙𝑖𝑚𝑖𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑐ℎ𝑎𝑛𝑔𝑒 ℎ𝑢𝑚𝑎𝑛𝑠 𝑐𝑎𝑛 ℎ𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑙𝑒 Rob, What's your take on GPT 3.5, regarding any impact on NZ's Software Engineering / Data Science job markets over the coming year or so?
Josh Cogliati
I also signed the pause letter. I think that there is no hope that we will be able to control superintelligent AIs, but I do think there is a chance that we might end up with an ethical AI. (ChatGPT definitely has a much better understanding of Human ethics than I could write a program to have, but just because a being knows what good is doesn't mean that being will act good.)