🔮 Betraying The Mission – #126

This week issue is filled with incompetence and second order consequences.

Good morning,

I’ve gotten some beautiful emails lately from people reading the newsletter. Thank you! It means a lot to know that it resonates.

With every other person having a newsletter these days, I often question whether I have anything to contribute. And in some ways, I love that audiences are earned. I’m only as good as my last text.

You are all free to leave, but I'll keep writing as long as you’re here.

I’ve been thinking a lot about competence lately. What makes you competent? Who decides what competence looks like?

Someone told me recently that I’m “highly incompetent”. And since it’s not something I hear often, it made me very curious to understand what would make them come to this conclusion.

One thing I do when people have opinions about me and my life is that I look at their “believability-weight”. I started with this after reading the book Principles.

Ray Dailo writes: “The most believable opinions are those from people who 1) have repeatedly and successfully accomplished the thing in question, and 2) have demonstrated that they can logically explain the cause-effect relationships behind their conclusions.”

This concept also means I take advice from very few people and try to avoid advising others whenever I don’t meet the criteria above.

In this case, the believability weight was low. But I still wanted to understand what made me qualify as “highly incompetent” to this person when I have both experience, results and references that counter that statement.

Also, I don’t mind being bad at things. For example, I’m not a fast swimmer and will never be. I don’t mind. I know how to swim without sinking; I can do it for a couple of kilometres if I have to. But I wouldn’t call that incompetence.

So what is incompetence, then?

When I asked ChatGPT what it means to be incompetent, it gave me a long answer, which included the phrase “an inability to meet basic standards or expectations in a given area”.

I think expectations are interesting in this context because expectations can focus on the outcome or the approach.

We all have our own idea of what “competence” looks like in practice, apart from arriving at the desired outcome.

This means, if we remove experience, results, references, and other standard ways to evaluate someone’s competence, there is still a subjective evaluation possible based on what we believe competence looks like.

This makes it possible for anyone to qualify as “highly incompetent”. Because sometimes, competence looks like being a man, having attended a specific university, or being a certain age.

In this case, the hypothesis is that I simply have a different style.

When I spoke to a much more believable person about this situation, they said: “Remember that Sweden has the most informal leadership style in the world”, and then they continued, “It is also one of the most appreciated styles, so I would recommend you keep it”.

And I will.

But it made me realise how fortunate I am to match people’s internal idea of what “competence” looks like most of the time. I’m white, well-educated, and have decent social skills.

For me, it was an outlier opinion I could investigate with curiosity. For someone else, it might be a career of battling unconscious bias.

So, being called “highly incompetent” once was probably a low price to pay to gain that insight … and learn that Sweden has one of the most informal leadership styles in the world.

Let’s get to the rest of the reading. Enjoy!


Watch — Actor and director Jesse Eisenberg talks, in this YouTube video, about when success is not motivated by effort and talent but rather by anxiety and fear. I think most of us can relate.

Read #1 — I wrote a LinkedIn post about AI making our writing worse because it requires us to be editors instead of writers, which is much harder. My friend Marek then shared this article about “taste” being the main differentiator in an AI-powered world. But how can you obtain it?

Listen — Are you trying to understand what’s going on with Trump and all his trials? This NPR podcast is for you.

Try — Live on the edge. I’ve spent weeks trying to move emails from one provider to another because “maybe I’ll need them someday”. We all know how unlikely that is, and it was certainly not worth the grey hairs. Let’s throw out the boxes in the basement and delete the miscellaneous Dropbox folders.

Elon Musk Sues OpenAI, Claiming it is Betraying Its Non-Profit Mission

Artificial Intelligence

Elon Musk is now taking legal action against OpenAI. Once a co-founder, Musk claims OpenAI has wandered off from its foundational goal of benefiting humanity through non-profit artificial intelligence development, turning instead towards profit-making.

The lawsuit: Filed in California Superior Court, Musk accuses OpenAI and CEO Sam Altman of breaching an initial agreement by pivoting the startup towards financial gains, particularly criticising the release of GPT-4 as a Microsoft-centric product.

OpenAI's stance: Despite Musk's accusations, OpenAI executives, including Altman, refute the claims, preparing themselves for continued criticism.

Musk's demands and challenges: The billionaire entrepreneur seeks a court mandate to publicise OpenAI's research and halt its use for Microsoft's or any individual's monetary benefit. However, legal experts question the solidity of Musk's breach of contract claim, pointing out the need for more concrete evidence than a single email proposal.

Background: Musk, a co-founder of OpenAI, parted ways with the company following disagreements over its direction. He later established xAI, aiming to develop an AI focused on truth-seeking. Despite the lawsuit, Musk remains deeply invested in AI through his ventures, including Tesla, and has advocated for AI regulation due to potential societal risks.

Regulatory scrutiny: OpenAI's collaboration with Microsoft faces an antitrust examination in both the United States and the United Kingdom because of internal boardroom conflicts and leadership changes.

Impact on AI development: The lawsuit unfolds against a backdrop of rapid AI adoption across industries, with Musk's ventures like xAI entering the competitive field trying to catch up with OpenAI.

Israel's Economic Crisis: GDP Dives 19% Due to Gaza Conflict

Geopolitics, Economics

Israel's GDP plummeted by 19% in the last quarter of 2023, a far steeper decline than the anticipated 10.5%, marking a significant economic downturn due to the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Starting on 7 October, the Israel-Hamas conflict has led to 1,200 Israelis killed and more than 29,000 Palestinian casualties. However, the war has also had a profound economic impact.

Economic fallout: It has cut private Israeli spending by 26.3%, exports by 18.3%, and investments in fixed assets by 67.8%, particularly affecting the construction sector due to labour shortages. In contrast, government war spending surged by 88.1%.

GDP impact: Despite a 2% growth for the year, the economy was initially projected to expand by 3.5% before the October attacks. This downturn suggests that 2024 might witness one of Israel's worst growth rates historically.

Regional trade disruption: Beyond Israel, the conflict has strained regional commerce, with Houthi rebels attacking cargo ships en route to the Suez Canal, slashing its revenue by up to 50%. The Red Sea, a vital global trade route, has seen diminished traffic as major shipping firms halt operations because of security concerns.

Global response: Both the United States and the United Kingdom have retaliated against Houthi targets in Yemen, highlighting the broader geopolitical consequences of the conflict on international trade and security.

Biden's Latest Move Against China: Protecting Americans' Data Privacy

Geopolitics, Privacy

Next week, the Biden administration plans to reveal initiatives to prevent China and other foreign adversaries from acquiring extensive American personal data. President Biden is expected to sign an executive order directing the US attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security to enforce stricter controls on data transactions deemed a threat to security.

What’s Included: The order targets legal channels such as data brokers and third-party agreements that currently allow sensitive information about individuals’ finances, genetics, and even keyboard habits to flow freely out of the United States.

Why it matters: With concerns over China's use of Americans' data to boost its AI and surveillance capabilities, the move seeks to safeguard privacy, human rights, and innovation.

Economic concerns: Despite fears of financial fallout, the administration is keen to ensure the restrictions are finely tuned to avoid disproportionate impact, focusing solely on bulk data transactions.

Global precedent: This order represents the first for the US to restrict data transfers based on location, sparking debate about the balance between privacy/security and free data flow.

Broader implications: Implementing and policing the new rules will be challenging, with officials needing to monitor global data transactions closely. However, this step is just the beginning. The initiative underscores the urgency of a national data privacy law to regulate the sale of sensitive information.

Behind the scenes: The plan has caused concern within the Treasury and Commerce Departments over potential trade and economic impacts, highlighting a delicate balance for the administration.

Vancouver Lawyer Investigated for AI-Generated Fake Cases

Artificial Intelligence

Chong Ke, a lawyer from Vancouver, is under scrutiny after she used ChatGPT for legal research, leading to the submission of non-existent cases in a British Columbia supreme court child custody case.

The mistake: Ke submitted two cases suggested by ChatGPT that the opposing counsel could not verify. She admitted her error when confronted and stated she had no intention of misleading the court or opposing counsel.

Hallucinating technology: This incident highlights the risks of "hallucinations" in Large Language Models, where chatbots generate false information. Despite AI's growing use in various fields, its reliability in legal research is questioned.

Legal ramifications: The opposing counsel labelled Ke’s conduct as "reprehensible," causing unnecessary legal expenses. However, Justice David Masuhara declined to award special charges against Ke, citing a lack of intentional deception and acknowledging her corrective actions.

Professional fallout: The case has attracted significant negative attention, prompting the Law Society of British Columbia to investigate Ke's conduct. This incident underscores the importance of using AI responsibly in any profession.

Global Resource Outlook 2024: High-Income Countries' Consumption Threatens Sustainability Goals

Sustainability, Climate Change

The United Nations launched its 2024 edition of the Global Resources Outlook, which shows how drastic changes in resource consumption are necessary to tackle the planetary crisis.

The Big Picture: A 60% increase in resource consumption by 2060 poses a severe threat to climate, biodiversity, and pollution targets, undermining economic prosperity and human well-being. The solution lies in cutting the resource intensity of our food, mobility, housing, and energy systems to align with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate objectives, ensuring a livable planet.

Why It Matters: This unprecedented increase in resource use could derail efforts to maintain global climate stability and protect biodiversity while also worsening economic inequalities. High-income nations, consuming six times more resources per capita, disproportionately contribute to climate change, spotlighting the urgent need for a global pivot towards sustainable consumption and production patterns.

By the Numbers: Material consumption has tripled over the past five decades, growing annually by over 2.3%. The environmental toll from material extraction and processing now overshoots climate and biodiversity safety limits, signalling an immediate need for action.

Between the Lines: Achieving the SDGs necessitates decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation. This includes reducing resource use and shifting towards practices that enhance well-being while minimising ecological impacts.

What's Next: Shifting demand and promoting fair resource distribution are crucial for hitting SDG targets and fostering shared prosperity. This requires bold policy interventions to phase out unsustainable practices, incentivise innovation in fulfilling human needs, and promote societal acceptance of necessary transitions.

The Bottom Line: Without a dramatic change in how we manage our resources, the dream of a sustainable future is unreachable. The scientific community calls for immediate, evidence-based action to protect the planet for current and future generations.

Alarming Rise in Youth Mental Health Issues in the UK: A Looming Economic Threat

Mental Health, United Kingdom

A new report shows a significant rise in mental health issues among young people in the United Kingdom. Implications reach far beyond individual challenges, potentially impacting the country's economic future.

Key Numbers: More than one-third (34%) of 18-24-year-olds are experiencing common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, a significant leap from 24% in 2000. Over half a million young adults in the United Kingdom were prescribed antidepressants in 2021-22.

Reversing the Wellness Trend: The rise of young people with mental health difficulties means they are now more likely to call in sick than their colleagues in Gen Xers, who are 20 years older. This is a surprising turnaround for historic wellness trends since older employees have always been the least healthy in the workforce.

Driving unemployment: The growing mental health crisis is beginning to have a significant impact on the career prospects of Gen Z employees. Young people with mental health issues are more likely to be jobless, in the United Kingdom, 21% of 18-24-year-olds with mental health problems being out of work between 2018 and 2022, compared to 13% of their healthier peers.

The University Paradox: The rate of common mental disorders among full-time students has surged by 37%, much faster than among working or unemployed young people. Going to university used to be a way to future-proof your career. However, the noticeable increase in common mental disorders among students creates a troubling paradox where young individuals risk their mental health for a promise of future job prospects.

Why it matters: The growing mental health crisis among young people in the United Kingdom (a trend present in several other countries) is not only a healthcare problem. It creates significant challenges in the workforce and education system, with long-term individual consequences and potentially impacting the country's economic future.

British Study Uncovers Long Covid's Impact on Cognition and Memory


Research from the United Kingdom has revealed alarming evidence that long-term COVID-19 can lead to a decline in cognitive abilities, equating to a loss of around six IQ points for individuals with symptoms persisting for more than 12 weeks. For those who have recovered from shorter bouts of COVID-19, the cognitive deficit is measured at about three IQ points compared to uninfected individuals.

Methodology: Using online tasks to assess cognitive function, the study involved over 140,000 participants, and nearly 113,000 completed all tasks. This participant pool is part of a larger study tracking COVID-19's spread in England from May 2020 to March 2022.

Greater Risk with Early Infection: The research indicates that those infected early in the pandemic showed a more significant cognitive impact. Notably, individuals who required intensive care faced a drastic loss, approximated to nine IQ points, compared to those unaffected by COVID-19.

Vaccination Advantage: Interestingly, the study observed a slight cognitive benefit for participants who had received at least two COVID vaccinations before contracting the virus, with negligible effects from recurring infections.

Diverse Impact: While the average cognitive deficit post-COVID is relatively small, a significant minority exhibit more profound deficits, potentially hindering their work and daily functions. This finding is especially concerning given the pandemic's scale and the number of people affected.

Signs of Hope: The study offers a glimmer of hope, suggesting that this cognitive decline might not last for individuals who eventually recover from long-term symptoms. Ultimately, there's potential for cognitive improvement once symptoms resolve.

Why It Matters: This research adds to the growing understanding of long-term COVID-19's broad and lasting effects, emphasising the urgent need for further research and support for those affected.

Thank you for reading. I hope you learned something new. ✨

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