About

Welcome, stranger! I am Florian "fnl" Leitner, an Austrian living in his exile of choice: Madrid, Spain.

My main areas of professional interest are AI and molecular biology, and I love working on mathematical models and algorithms that enable computers to emulate otherwise tedious human workflows. However, I prefer to resolve the acronym AI to the term Augmented Intelligence (as opposed to Artificial Intelligence). For one, because it seems more benign, and even more because I believe we are not a single step closer to understanding the recursive nature of self-awareness than any number of decades ago. Second, building machines that can help us think and act more efficiently is well within our reach, there is no doubt about that. Over these years I have been working with many imperative, declarative, and functional computer languages to tinker with a large number of libraries, frameworks, and environments for speech processing and statistics. In the last few years I have taken a strong interest in coaching engineering teams, which has brought me to the study of organizational (and privately, societal) cultures. Regarding my professional details, feel free to take a look at my professional landing page, Data Catalytics.

On a more personal level, I believe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been humanity's biggest achievement so far (now we only need to observe them…) In particular, the right to proper education, but even more so, being taught critical thinking, is something the world is lacking. The side effects of not teaching our next generations how to properly think for themselves is further amplified by "social" networks with a dopamine-driven, addictive user experience and their ubiquitous, graphical messaging systems. Our lack of an accessible, intellectual, pragmatic, and creative education for everybody, coupled with the unprecedented increase in connectivity has led to the rise of the "behavior change" industry. This new industry manipulates entire peoples on topics as far apart as the "anti-vax" movement, unscientific Homeopathy, and all kinds of extremist left- & right-wing FUD. Overall, I see this as the causal chain leading to our splintered political opinions (that therefore likely are not even our own!) and societies. As with everything, this connectivity is very positive, too, and we need to learn to "yield" this connective power properly, as to not get overwhelmed by negative side-effects stemming from maximizing shareholder value at the expense of all else (inclusive our own sanity). In this context, I am a proud supporter of Human Rights Watch: I find the prevalence and acceptance of torture and slavery even in our Western society revolting, and consider them the top two symptoms humanity must learn to eradicate. HRW's main agenda is achieving that very goal: If you only want to follow one news source, that is the one to read.

Furthermore, I am a vivid defender of the Right to Privacy and a supporter of all kinds of free/open software. Going a step further than most, I would consider getting rid of copyright laws and the patent system altogether: Our modern copyright laws were historically created by the Roman Catholic Church together with English, French, and German monarchs. During the Age of Enlightenment, copyright laws were explicitly designed to prohibit the spread of knowledge and censor information and they effectively continue to do so to date. Patents, on the other hand, arguably only serve patent trolls and large multinationals instead of protecting individuals (i.e., inventors). These artificial monopolies on pharmaceuticals, software, and other cutting edge technology created by the patent system are degrading livelihoods, innovation and societal evolution: For example, patents on human genes are limiting our ability to prevent and cure cancer. Great organizations I admire and follow in this respect are WikiLeaks and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ, your second-most important news outlet), while I am a supporter of the European Digital Rights (EDRi) movement, too.

A final pet peeve of mine is that I believe humanity will have to do much better on preventing Climate Change through global warming, and very soon (if it isn't too late, already): As a scientist, I feel that climate researchers couldn't be ringing the alarm bells any louder, yet our leaders (and their supporters) utterly fail to listen to them. It is disconcerting that a young woman with Asperger's has to halt her own education to raise the world's attention and in turn educate humanity on the expected impacts of climate change. Put graphically, our delay in reducing global warming is going to a very high interest credit card of accrued economic debt, while it has become unclear if we will be able to pay that debt back. If we wait to get hit by unstable and extreme weather, it will by all likelihood have become technologically impossible to return the ecosystem to the sweet spot it is in today. Unlike the other two big issues I care about (above), climate change is on a trajectory where the prognosis of not acting seems irresponsible at least, and cataclysmic at a global scale at worst.

But even if this sounds a bit gloomy so far, the true insight from the above is that we have a very clear picture of what is "wrong with us" right now. And, we have far better tools for fixing our problems than any society before us, with technologies that can also be used to build a much safer, pleasant, and more equal world. As a scientist and technologist, I believe humanity already posses all the know-how to build a perfect place for everyone, a world where every human being can live a fulfilled and happy life in freedom, without suffering.

This seeming utopia can be achieved if we provide honest and courageous education to our kids, as well as ensuring the free flow of information. Having proper education develops our offspring into critical thinkers, which eradicates both the need for censorship as well as the basis of indifference and fear (namely, the unknown). Combine that with coaching our kids on the principles of compassion and altruism, and we stop feeding the breeding grounds of conflict and hate. It will require us to recognize that there is no "planet B" so that each of us individually takes on the responsibility of using of the planet's resources and lives in harmony with its ecosystem.

However, more than anything else, I believe that this "fixing" requires an open mind and heart and has to happen inside of us, individually. We will need to identify and support leaders that "do good recklessly", while each of us must make that choice out of our own free will (hence there is no recommendation to be given). Importantly, you have to expect that most others will strongly disagree with parts or even all of your world view, yet you need to accept and cherish those differences. We can get closer to this utopia if we improve ourselves and our behavior, and if we strive to balance our intrinsic motivations and inner thoughts.

To be perfectly realistic, the goal is not reaching this utopia - the real goal is taking any first step towards it and then every other step thereafter. Taking one step at a time, we will end at a very different place than either this perfect utopia or a gloomy demise, at a place that undoubtedly will be more exciting than either of those binary outcomes.

In terms of lifestyle, I love arts, traveling, nature, and sports and might once in a while write about some of the awe-inspiring places you can find on our planet. Finally, and most dear to my heart, is my family, that is my wife and two sons. If you wish to discuss anything with me directly, please contact me via e-mail.

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