Daniel's 2023 Annual Letter

Dear Friends,

This year I reach you from our West Beijing apartment, where we've finally moved in. The place is quiet and spacious, there's a park downstairs to walk around in, and I'm certain we’ve found the greatest La-Z-Boy sofa in existence. It's paradise for introverts like Flora and me.


But we couldn't sit still on that sofa for long. After the Chinese government lifted COVID restrictions, we got right back to traveling. We rented an apartment in Tokyo over the summer, timing it so we could attend two live music festivals: Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic. Both were fantastic, and convinced us that we should take more long trips whenever we can make a month of remote work work.

Flora's Japanese skills blazed past mine, but we're both nearing basic conversational ability. Our practice regimen consists of daily Duolingo app lessons, watching a lot of Japanese TV shows, and speaking in broken "Japachinglish" with each other before bursting out laughing at our linguistic incompetence.

Depression and Rebirth

Though the summer was filled with music, I could barely hear it. Most of 2023 was dark. I had given up on old career goals and couldn't imagine new ones that inspired me anymore. This spiraled over the past few years, impacting my health, relationships, and motivation for just about anything. When I started regularly ruminating about how meaningless life was, I realized I couldn't just meditate or exercise my way out of this one. A magical trip to Japan didn't shake it. I even tried antidepressants for a month--probably the worst month of my life--and quickly gave them up.

AA72 by Zdzisław Beksiński
AA72 by Zdzisław Beksiński

After one fitful night's sleep, I awoke with Tracy Chapman's song Change ringing in my ears and the conviction to look toward spirituality. I'd always laughed at religion and thought believers naïve, so this was a big surprise. But I followed it. I started praying every day, reading classic religious texts, and talking with friends who find solace in spirituality. The Book of John in one very raw translation of the New Testament moved me to tears every day for weeks. Incredibly, the oppressive cloud over me began clearing, replaced by immense energy, optimism, and connection. No matter how silly it sounds to 2022 Daniel, 2023 Daniel was saved by Jesus. Hallelujah!

How could this happen to me? Am I becoming some fire-and-brimstone kook? Will I start wearing a cross chain and try to convert my friends? Hardly. I remain skeptical of religious symbols and organizations, which too often focus people on easy-to-swallow fantasies rather than hard-to-understand truths. But when done right, I'm finding religious practice reliably evokes those feelings that humans crave more than anything else--feelings of bliss, fulfillment, beauty, and love.


Spiritual rebirth brought with it new professional inspiration, and I found myself drawn deeper into AI applications. My previous letter suggested learning about this stuff on Datacamp. In 2023, I ended up creating a short course for them on the core concepts of generative AI.

Working with today's AIs is like having a new team member, except this team member has serious quirks: It shows genius-level technical knowledge and works hundreds of times faster than a human, but it also has absolutely no common sense and confidently gives wrong answers. What do you do with a teammate like that? I'm not exactly sure, but learning to work together can actually be a lot of fun. In my day-to-day work at Google, Gemini is my brainstorming and coding partner. On nights and weekends, friends and I are building a little podcast app together with the help of several AI teammates (my favorite is GitHub Copilot).

Though discussions about the future are never perfectly prescient, I’ve enjoyed two recent interviews about how relevant technologies are evolving. They’re insightful but not too technical:

  1. AI and Quantum, a discussion between former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and recent head of Google's forays into quantum computing Jack Hidary

  2. AI and the Future of Humanity, a lively debate between Microsoft's new CEO of AI Mustafa Suleyman and historian Yuval Noah Harari.

2023 marks a major transformation for me. For the first time in years, I feel a sense of purpose. Many of you have helped me find it, and I am extraordinarily grateful that you've followed along with my annual letters all these years. If you want, reply with your own 2023 updates--I really enjoy hearing your stories.



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