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Pressing Pause on Theseus

26 April 2020


I’ll skip right to the point. I’m putting the Theseus project on indefinite hiatus pending interested collaborators.

I still believe in the project’s importance and potential. There are powerful ideas in here that I have not seen anywhere else. I don’t expect non-experts to recognize them without a working proof of concept, which is why I’ve been working for several years on building one.

But I’ve been working alone, slowly, splitting my attention between this project, my other projects, my day job as a security engineer, and the rest of my life. It’s been slow going, and I’ve burned out on it more than once.

It’s hard to describe how taxing it can be to work alone on a large, difficult project like this. Every success is private, and so is every mistake.

I’ve also felt some guilt at not having finished it sooner - a feeling which has seeped into everything else I’ve worked on in parallel with Theseus. Frankly, I’m surprised that I’ve been able to keep this up for so long.

In spite of this guilt, I have taken on some small side projects lately and I’ve been startled both by how fun they’ve been and how easy they’ve felt relative to Theseus. These small successes have opened my eyes to how much more I could be doing.

The project’s social context has also changed - or at least, my view of it has.


I wrote in early 2017 that the current administration’s efforts at censoring climate research had highlighted a number of failings with our academic and social institutions. I still believe this. I still believe that strong advocacy (in both social and technological forms) for open access is a necessary response to these failures. Necessary, but not sufficient.

True, oppressive governments around the world are using censorship to further their goals, but it is far from their only tool. Others include misinformation, distraction, and appeals to toxic biases - racism, sexism, classism, xeonophobia, et cetera ad nauseum.

In many cases these latter methods of control are much more effective, in part because to many people they are less obvious.

I’m not going to claim to know what to do about this.

I have come to see that anti-censorship tools, while undeniably essential, are only a very small part of a very big picture. I thought Theseus could matter; I still think that, but I am no longer convinced that grinding away at this in isolation is the best use of my time.

what now?

Good question. I’m looking forward to figuring that out.

There are some interesting unpublished results that I’ll be writing up for this blog once I find the time. But my main hope for placing Theseus on hiatus is to reclaim my free time (which this project has almost completely consumed for the last few years), so it might be a while.

This doesn’t mean Theseus is over. If I could find some interested collaborators, I’d be glad to pick this project back up at any time. I just can’t keep working on it alone.

This project matters a lot to me. I don’t want it to be over. That said, I’m trying to make a rare concession to practicality here. It sucks, but it also seems like the right thing to do.