The Spirit of Giving in AI and Beyond

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2 min read
Sleigh made of gift boxes

Dear friends,

As we approach the end of 2021, you may be winding down work and gearing up for the winter holiday. I’m looking forward to taking a break from work and hope you are too.

December is sometimes called the Season of Giving. If you have spare time and are wondering what to do with it, I think one of the best things any of us can do is to reflect on how we can help others.

When the AI community was small, there was a strong spirit of cooperation. It felt like an intrepid band of pioneers taking on the world, and people were eager to help others with advice, an encouraging word, or an introduction. Those who benefited from this often couldn’t pay it back, so we paid it forward by helping those who came after us. As the AI community grows, I would like to preserve this spirit. I promise to keep working to build up the AI community. I hope you will, too!

I also hope that you will consider ways — large or small — that you can lend a helping hand beyond the AI community. Many of us have access to advanced technology that much of the world does not. Collectively, our decisions move billions of dollars and affect billions of lives. This gives us a special opportunity to do good in the world.

“We are what we repeatedly do,” said historian and philosopher Will Durant (often misattributed to Aristotle). If you repeatedly seek to uplift others, not only does this help them but — perhaps equally important — it makes you a better person, too, for it is your repeated actions that define you as a person. There’s also a classic study that shows spending money on others may make you happier than spending money on yourself.

So, during this holiday season, I hope you’ll take some time off. Rest, relax, and recharge! Connect with loved ones if you haven’t done so frequently enough the past year. And if time permits, find something meaningful you can do to help someone else, be it leaving an encouraging comment on a blog post, sharing advice or encouragement with a friend, answering an AI question in an online forum, or making a donation to a worthy cause. Among charities relevant to education and/or tech, my favorites include the Wikimedia Foundation, Khan Academy, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Mozilla Foundation. You can pick something meaningful to you from this list of organizations vetted by Charity Watch.

In the U.S., many parents tell their children that Santa Claus, the jolly character who leaves gifts in their homes at this time of year, is a magical being. When the kids grow up, they learn that Santa Claus isn’t real. Can we, as adults, be real-life Santa Clauses ourselves and give the gifts of our time, attention, or funds to someone else?




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