Sunday Signal: Humanoid robots, good design and the power of no
Hey friends 👋 Happy Sunday.
Here’s your weekly dose of AI and introspection.
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AI robotics company Figure showcased its humanoid ‘Figure 01’ walking independently. Their objective is to build general-purpose humanoid robots that move through the world in a natural human-like way.
Alex’s take: Now with a team of 60 engineers, Figure was able to accomplish this milestone in just 12 months. Humanoids will allow us to not only address labour shortages but also carry out jobs that are unsafe for humans.
Ethan Mollick used GPT-4’s voice capability to act as a negotiation simulator and instructor. It detailed a scenario focused on teaching the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) concept. In the end, it even provided a comprehensive grade with feedback.
Alex’s take: What stood out to me was the grading aspect. It gave a B+ for a well-understood negotiation but suggested a more balanced initial offer and enhanced specificity. This could democratise how individuals learn negotiation with accessibility to frictionless, practical environments. After all, reading theory only takes you so far.
Eureka is an agent that engineers super-human level reward functions for robot dexterity. It was able to outperform human experts in 83% of tasks by a 52% improvement average. This serves as a powerful co-pilot for robot engineers to design specific motor behaviours.
Alex’s take: Being able to master intricate pen-spinning tricks is a feat even CGI artists struggle with. They have to animate it frame by frame. The incorporation of human feedback takes us a step closer to robots seamlessly executing complex, high-frequency motor controls, potentially revolutionising industries reliant on manual dexterity.
1 Article I Enjoyed
In the late 1970s, German designer Dieter Rams saw the world around him as: “An impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.”
He knew he was a significant contributor to that world. Rams asked himself: is my design good design?
His answer came in the form of ten principles for good design.
My favourite has to be number 10: Good design is as little design as possible.
“Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.
Back to purity, back to simplicity.”
1 Idea I Learned
The power of no.
There's a certain appeal to saying yes—it’s polite, no toes are trampled on, no feelings are hurt. At the core of our being is the desire for human connection, and saying yes keeps the harmony intact, avoiding strains on relationships. Saying yes feels good.
When we’re young, we say yes to lots of things. Importantly so. Saying yes exposes us to new opportunities. Through trial and error, you find out what you don’t like to move one step closer to what you enjoy. But as we get older, we become more selective. The bar to say yes becomes higher and higher, understanding that each ‘yes’ carries a cost.
That cost is time. We need to choose wisely where we spend it, otherwise, it can be expended foolishly. Saying yes means committing yourself to something. This creates an obligation.
You’ve already decided how you’ll spend your time. What starts as a day’s commitment turns into a year-long project. Days stretch into weeks, weeks into years. Tiny decisions snowball into massive consequences.
Make it a rule—never say yes immediately. Give yourself the room to reflect. If in a call or a meeting, take time, and respond later once you’ve thought about it. If you say yes to good opportunities, you miss out on the chance to chase after great ones.
Steve Jobs captured this idea by saying:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
You have to pick carefully, reserving your ‘yes’ for what genuinely excites you. As Derek Sivers points out in his book “Hell Yeah or No” if you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” when deciding whether to do something, say no.
Saying no gives you the room to throw yourself into that thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”
Reject the good to welcome the great. That’s the power of no.
1 Quote to Share
Steve Jobs on following your heart:
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.
Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
1 Question to Ponder
At the end of each week, ask yourself:
How much time have I devoted to unprofitable action?
Have my hours fuelled purpose, or merely passed?
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See you next week,
P.S. Turbulence-free flights coming soon.