The Illusion of the Hockey Stick Curve

The result of constant change, occasionally massive disruptions, and fundamentally yielding to what is.

The panoramic scene above represents the culmination of billions of years of natural processes. The photograph can only hint at the awe and wonder I experienced, standing atop a high plateau, contemplating this vast expanse of time and space. The thriving life, both visible and unseen, present in this image, is the result of uncountable cycles of upheaval and gentle sculpting that span hundreds of millions of years. This spectacle is a testament to the enduring resilience of Life on Earth.

The desert is surprisingly dense with life. It creatively adapts to what you could say is an ascetic life – just like the Buddha.

We’re currently experiencing a phase of great disruption. The rate of growth in A.I. over the few months since November 2022 when A.I. went viral beyond the “techie” community is astonishing. I haven’t witnessed anything like it in over 40 years of my software development career. It’s a real-deal proverbial “hockey stick curve”, the exponential growth curve. Even the Azure A.I. Engineer certification I obtained in January 2023 feels antiquated.

It’s easy to be caught up in the chaos of the hockey stick part, the most powerful part of a larger sigmoid curve.

The hockey stick, with its swift and sudden upward swing, draws us into what can only seem like unending growth. It’s a simultaneously exciting and frightening ride. And it’s also misleading because in reality, the hockey stick is just one segment of the much larger story of the sigmoid curve.

Amid the chaos and confusion of this rapid AI expansion, even those of us immersed in data and machine learning can easily lose sight of the bigger picture. The ChatGPT of just a few months ago now seems quaint in the face of weekly AI advancements. As captivating as it is, the hockey stick is only a segment of the larger sigmoid curve. This curve, unlike the isolated fragment of the hockey stick, follows a well-known pattern: a lengthy phase of slow growth, a rapid rise, and eventually, a leveling off phase we sometimes refer as the point of diminishing returns.

Even the most rapid growth eventually slows down. Resources get exhausted, we adapt to the new normal, and the natural complexity of the world causes the fervor to peter out, much like a hurricane losing its steam. While I probably will stand to be corrected, I posit that large language models, the prevailing methodology in today’s AI wave, may not be profound enough to steer us towards the final frontier of AI development.

DALLE-2’s rendition of my prompt: Many peaks depicting the concept of a path taking us to great heights. There are other paths would take us to much greater heights, but we must first come down from the peak we’re currently on.

So I think there will be yet another “A.I. winter” next year or so. But as I’ve mentioned in another blog, the coming A.I. winter will not be a frozen tundra like those every other decade. It will be more like a San Diego winter, a gentle and mild season of reflection and consolidation.

Similarly, the dot-com crash of the early 2000s didn’t spell the end of the Internet. Rather, it marked the beginning of a more mature phase, where over-hype gave way to genuine value creation. Similarly, an A.I. winter doesn’t mean the end of A.I. It’s merely a course correction, a time to fully digest the big disruption.

Where will that take us? No one knows anything while caught in the whirlpool of a hockey stick curve. Predictions of the future have always been comically inaccurate. This isn’t surprising. After all, no matter how sophisticated A.I. becomes, it operates in an environment that is sterile compared to the rich complexity of humanity within Life on Earth.

There’s no better model of the Universe than the Universe itself. The same holds true for humanity – there is no better model for humanity than humanity itself. Our intelligence has evolved to thrive amidst the complexity of Life on Earth, not in isolation from it. With A.I. there will always be something lost in the translation with us, as long as Life on Earth remains one of constant change.

Despite the rapid growth and disruptions, we’ve always thrived. We’ve always used big disruptions as a springboard to much bigger and [arguably] “better” – at least very different. A.I. is no different. As we ride the hockey stick curve, it’s vital to remember that it’s just one part of the larger sigmoid curve. The hockey stick might be the most exciting part, but it’s not the end of the story.

This exponential growth will eventually level off. For all you A.I. enthusiasts, that’s OK. This leveling off doesn’t signify failure; it’s a natural progression, a transition from wild growth to sustainable development. It’s a reminder that in the face of rapid technological advancements, we, as humans, have the capacity to adjust, adapt, and continue to thrive.

So, as we’re caught up in the midst of this A.I. turmoil, for better or worse, remember that this too shall pass. Although that doesn’t mean it will pass back to the way things were. Do not lose sight of the larger sigmoid curve. It’s Nature’s secret sauce of Eternity. In the Zen tradition, embrace the rapid growth. As Hakuin would say, “Is that so?

A Random Few Happy Things from My 2023 Capitol Reef Sabbatical

The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet at Goblin Valley State Park. The Life of this Buddharupa will fade with time only to be reborn in some other manner we mere mortals cannot predict.

I include this photo of the peacock because they are just something happy. He was our surprise companion at the Airbnb near Capitol Reef. Although he teases us by making us watch him walk slowly across the highway.

We rescued this forgotten chocolate egg, left unfound in an apricot tree presumably this past Easter a few weeks ago.

Lastly, Happy Mother’s Day. This is a little gift our Airbnb host made for Mrs. Hanamoku! We’ll never forget it!

Faith and Patience,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

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