2020 aka i told you so

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31-05-2020

In January 2020, i started posting on multiple social media channels that things were about to get bad. I also started calling lots of friends and family, warning them vehemently of what was to come. I was shocked that many of the responses i got were along the lines of:

Overview

I wasted months arguing with loved ones

I argued until as late as mid March until everyone had finally pivoted. It's simply shocking. I even fell out with a few people. Here's one of many such conversations, with a Medical Dr friend of mine, who shall not be named:

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You nearly see me getting subdued.. because, after all, i'm talking to a Dr.

Here's an email, with a loved one, declaring that, despite my warnings, they would not prepare:

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I had countless fights on Facebook.. god i lose track of how many hours, or days of my time i invested into getting people ready. To put it in the words of a friend of mine:

"Mad. It's like people who thought WW2 may not happen after the nazies invaded Poland. People just don't want to accept that there is an existential threat that is changing everything."

a thank you email

Well, at least one person bothered to say thank you. Thank god as this email actually made all that energy worth it. She's a very very very kind person, nearing onto a saint, so mostly trying to make me feel good about myself!

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My preparations

In early february I purchased a lot of n80 respirators, and 2 full face gas masks. I fitted some n80 filters onto their gas mask filters and inner vents. At this time, people were still trying to figure out what mask to wear, and the mask debate was still raging in the west (incredibly).

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I was only a couple of hours away from islands i knew would be shielded from NCOV-SARS-2, so i headed to the Philippines. I have been here since, working remotely, and enjoying diving and incredible fish. We still have no cases in Mindoro.

Let's revisit these statements, from January

"i can only see this spiralling out of control very quickly"

CDC: High Contagiousness and Rapid Spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2

"the growth is exponential"

CDC: Doubling Time of the COVID-19 Epidemic by Province, China

"Food shortages"

Keep critical food supply chains operating to save lives during COVID-19, urges new UN-backed report

"isolate yourself"

BBC: Coronavirus - The world in lockdown in maps and charts

"global pandemic"

WHO: COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic

"ICUs and hospitals rammed globally"

More ICU capacity still needed in U.S. for COVID-19 patients

"Civil Unrest"

Twin Cities protests

Do not be fooled by the George Floyd case. COVID19 was the pin that burst the everything bubble, and George Floyd was the pin that burst the American COVID19 civil unrest of 2020.

"have been cooped up for two months, and so now they're in a different space and a different place. They're restless. Some of them have been unemployed, some of them don't have rent money, and they're angry, they're frustrated"
-- Keith Ellison, Attorney General of Minnesota

My January 'predictions' all came to be. How did i do it?

A friend

A friend of mine (actually a family member) told me to fly back to Europe. He is one of the coolest calmest, most laid back people i know, and for him to say this was enough for me to say i'd look into it carefully. That was on the 18th of Jan.

Algorithms / Systems / Architectures

I've been reading pure Computer Science algorithms daily since October 2019, and visualising them. When you load up parameters into your head, simulate them, visualise them, and draw them out, everyday, you get a knack for doing it.

To be fair, the tech sector as a whole knew precisely where this was going. We study network effects, in the hopes of one day being able to leverage them. We understand exponential growth, R0 etc. (and no, you do not need several doctorates and a PhD in Virology).

My job very often entails looking at a very, very, very complex global network, and looking for things that will make it fall over, and either fixing them or preventing them from happening. When you know how easily dominos fall, and when you start seeing the dominos, you really don't have to be Einstein to see it coming: you just need to know where to look, and to believe what you're seeing.

Twitter

"Expert Twitter" is a real leap forwards in the transmission of human knowledge. The speed of global, high quality dissemination of information has become instantaneous. My twitter follow list is full of very savvy experts in their fields, and creative thinkers of all types. I cherish and curate my follow list carefully. Based on the videos leaked out of Wuhan, and the plethora of research papers being pumped out and available at high velocity on Twitter, it was, once again, obvious where this was going.

Nassim Taleb

The two words "Naïve Empiricism" were all i needed to start recognising this fatal thinking error that was made by everyone who under-estimated the impact of COVID19.

"Fat tailed events have special attributes, making conventional risk-management approaches losing in adequacy" -- Nassim Taleb

"Historical measures of spreading rates for pandemics in general, and for the current one in particular, underestimate current spread of the disease because today's conditions reveal more connectivity than past numbers." --Nassim Taleb

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Today's world is so inter-connected, that when attempting to predict the outcome of events that feature properties of a viral nature, it is best not to employ empiricism. This is very counter-intuitive for a lot of us, since empiricism is a vital thinking tool on which we can rely for everything else.

Empiricism relies on observations from the senses, and the careful documentation of them through experimentation. Empirical evidence acquired through experimentation is at the very heart of the scientific method itself. Dr Sackett founded his evidence based medicine practices, which were adopted globally, on the acquisition, documentation and classification of empirical evidence. And this may be the reason why many Drs got this wrong, too.

So we may find it in ourselves to excuse those who made those thinking errors, of comparing COVID19 with the SARS, MERS, or Ebola epidemics, and thereby vastly underestimating its impact.

To sum up Taleb's statements as simply as possible: when trying to predict events involving things spreading from one person to another, now and going forwards, think numerically and with a blank slate.

What now?

So now that i have so carefully presented myself as a living prophet at future predictions, you challenge me with the question, what comes next? My response: I have no idea.

The situation in January was quite easy to predict. Now? Not so much.

If Builders Built Buildings the Way Programmers Wrote Programs, Then the First Woodpecker That Came Along Would Destroy Civilization. --a saying in computer programming

When societies become highly efficient, they lose all their resilience. In general, we trade efficiency for resilience, and vice versa. Resilient systems are redundant and expensive by nature.

The situation has become so complex, that your guess is as good as mine. I do believe that we are entering into a new age. An age of deflation, inflation, stagflation, abundance and inequality. All at once. A sheering. The gross over-supply of skills, and consumer demand falling to all time lows will bring drastic changes to how we work, think of our lives, and consume.

This drop in consumer activity, combined with the exponential increases in the ability for technology to provide value, combined with the current trend of technology having become the focal point of markets and capital alike, will drastically change the face of our world.

Just look, right now, in 2020, at the mind-jarring limitless value your phone provides to you, everyday, 24/7, 7 days a week, and at nearly no cost to you. You have the world's knowledge at your fingertips, every one of the world's experts at your fingertips (if you write to them, they'll even respond), the world's entertainment at your fingertips, live communication with anyone on earth, instantly.

Access to every book, every novel, published paper, podcast, educational course, encyclopedia, article ever written. It's all there, right next to the candy crush icon. You have the ability to record professional music, produce it, and distribute it to the entire world, within the span of a day. You have the ability to become your own media outlet, your own newspaper, magazine, record studio-quality movies that were recorded on your phone and get them viewed by Millions, instantly.

And now, thanks to this virus, you even have an abundance of time...

Next, you have factories around the world, and industry heads receiving freshly printed money being told to restart the economy. But you don't want to buy. Then you have swaths of the population jobless, restless, angry, going even more broke, and demanding for answers.

I have no idea what will happen, i do think however that we will have to re-evaluate our understanding of what value means. Re-evaluate our work, how we spend our time, and ultimately our lives.

An age of (mis)information

The internet is like a pile of dog excrement, with gold nuggets embedded into it. In 2020, and going forwards, the ability to separate the gold nuggets from the excrement has become a vital skill. If you were still wondering whether to wear a mask in public, after the month of February, you had a late information problem, if you were still wondering whether to wear a mask in public, after the month of March, you had an misinformation problem.

In the previous decades, and century, the ability to find information online was a big discerning factor that could have big implications on your mind, outcomes, and earning capacity. As we enter this new decade, and as we continue hurling at great speed into this century, the ability to quickly separate accurate information from misinformation is this new discerning factor, that will have a greater and greater impact on your life.

No the onus is not on social media companies, the onus is on you, gentle reader.

My takeaways

The world has so far been driven by people who know how to look good, and sound good. And this popularity contest seems to have carried more weight than actually knowing what we are talking about. I wish this would change.

I wish i'd spent the energy on something else

With hindsight, i wish i hadn't spent so much energy trying to convince people of what was going to happen. If people got it, then good. If they didn't well that's their problem. And to an extent, does trying to convince people that something is important make it seem less important?

I wish i'd shorted the system

Having had a clear sense of what was going to happen, i wish i'd been short on the current system. I focus too much on my longs, and not enough on my shorts.

I wish i were more confident

I am learning more and more that, deep down, nobody is confident, and that the majority of people are winging it. A lot of people think like this:

While people like me tend to be more self-effacing. Maybe it's time for this to change, and i am starting to realise that a heated discussion between two parties is actually a showdown of who's more confidence in their facts. If i push harder, how much are you will to defend your view. Now, given how this year has gone down, i'm willing to challenge your view if we disagree. So the question is, how sure are you of your viewpoint, and how willing will you be to defend it?

And then.. i look back at how much energy that takes, and i do wonder... why bother?