Why Greatness Cannot be Planned: The Myth of the Objective is a book by machine learning researchers Kenneth Stanley and Joel Lehman. Based on insights drawn from their machine learning research, Stanley and Lehman criticize the pervasive objective-driven optimization that saturates all facets of modern life - from business to school to choosing a partner. They argue that bottom-up goal-less tinkering and free exploration could in many circumstances lead to better outcomes.
"This book was born from a radical idea about artificial intelligence (AI) that unexpectedly grew to be about much more." - Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective
"We assume that any worthy social accomplishment is best achieved by first setting it as an objective and then pursuing it together with conviction. It makes you wonder, is there such a thing as accomplishment without objectives?" - Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective ^cc115e
"Obviously we’re going to raise a lot of questions about the benefits of objectives, but one important point is that we’re mainly focused on ambitious objectives—those whose achievement is anything but certain. One of the reasons that objectives aren’t often questioned is that they work perfectly well for more modest pursuits." - Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective
Keith on the Machine Learning Street Talk podcast
In Stanley's picbreeder experiments, it seemed like participants followed the interestingness gradient until they realised they were close to something cool and then set an objective to choose images that moved them closer to it.
There are certain domains where objective-driven ... thrives. For example, engineering.
"Take engineers for example. They typically set objectives through rigorous specifications. Then they continually measure how their prototypes compare to these specifications."
"Can you imagine life with fewer objectives, or with no objectives at all?" - Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective
"There’s a better way to think of Picbreeder—as a stepping-stone collector. It collects stepping stones that create the potential to find even more stepping stones."
"It’s useful to think of achievement as a process of discovery. We can think of
painting a masterpiece as essentially discovering it within the set of all possible
Set of all possible images seen and unseen
Set of all images you've seen
"A minuscule proportion of all possible images are great masterpieces like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night."
Stanley mentions the hot and cold game that kids play -
"We don’t only optimize our minds to perform tasks, but we invent new tasks and identify new problems to solve."
"...scientists often demand hypotheses from each other because they don’t want to fund research only because it sounds “interesting.” “What is the hypothesis?” they’ll insist. It’s similar to asking what is the objective. Without a hypothesis, an experiment is reduced to mere speculation, little more than child’s play. The hypothesis, like the objective of any project you might want to pursue, certifies that it’s worth pursuing." - Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective
In my about me page I wrote about how I was initially propelled towards incremental reading through my interest in finance and equity research. Most of the material I imported into my collection during my first few months using SuperMemo was finance related.
Through the r/SecurityAnalysis subreddit I got access to a bunch of quarterly research reports on various industries and sectors. I started to import them into SuperMemo to incrementally read them.
The fundamental problem of search and discovery is that we usually don’t know the stepping stones that lead to the objective at the outset.
I have seen the same process carried out time and time again where people download SuperMemo expecting to use it to study a specific subject, but 6 months down the line their plans have been completely derailed!
I would like to stress that I think this is a good thing! There is huge value in exploration, and tools like IncrementalReading support exploratory learning extremely well.