May 2020 (Links)

The Importance of Saying “Oops”

Source: LessWrong | By: Eliezer Yudkowsky

“Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is necessarily a change. If we only admit small local errors, we will only make small local changes. The motivation for a big change comes from acknowledging a big mistake.”

Don’t let small adjustments take you in the wrong direction, correct often and sometimes make big corrections.

Pick of the coronavirus papers: Immune system shows abnormal response to COVID-19

Source: Nature (the paper/publisher)

Probably best place to look for news on research surrounding COVID-19.

Lee Kuan Yew’s Rule

Source: Farnham Street

“Does it work?” That is the question that the modernizer of Singapore asked himself.

“I do not work on a theory. Instead, I ask: what will make this work? If, after a series of solutions, I find that a certain approach worked, then I try to find out what was the principle behind the solution. So Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, I am not guided by them…I am interested in what works…”

How uniform is the neocortex?

Source: LessWrong | By: zhukeepa

“The neocortex is the part of the human brain responsible for higher-order functions like sensory perception, cognition, and language, and has been hypothesized to be uniformly composed of general-purpose data-processing modules.”

Based on the current knowledge about the brain, and AI research, the author (and I too) think the idea that the brain is using prediction (and input) and is quite uniform, as quite likely.

Interview with Aubrey de Grey

Source: LessWrong | By: emanuele ascani

Some interesting questions, but not much I didn’t know. We need to solve ageing, and for that to happen need to solve all the aspects/problems.

AI and Efficiency

Source: Open AI

“We’re releasing an analysis showing that since 2012 the amount of compute needed to train a neural net to the same performance on ImageNet1 classification has been decreasing by a factor of 2 every 16 months. Compared to 2012, it now takes 44 times less compute to train a neural network to the level of AlexNet2 (by contrast, Moore’s Law3 would yield an 11x cost improvement over this period). Our results suggest that for AI tasks with high levels of recent investment, algorithmic progress has yielded more gains than classical hardware efficiency.”

Dithering and Open Versus Free

Source: Stratechery | By: Ben Thompson

Open doesn’t equal free exactly, email is open but you can have it be paid (as he does). Subscription are important to have a steady income (vs hoping for hits).

The rest discusses how these dynamics play out and how Spotify is aggregating podcasts (also discussed earlier).

“…Spotify still is not open: they can take down your content or choose not to play it, just as Facebook could not show your page unless you were willing to pay-to-play.”

“…That, by extension, means not agreeing to Spotify’s terms for Exponent, and accepting that leveraging RSS to have per-subscriber feeds makes having the Daily Update Podcast on Spotify literally impossible. More broadly, owning my own destiny as a publisher means avoiding Aggregators and connecting directly with customers.”

Studies on Slack

Source: Slate Star Codex

A great piece on slack (in the system) and how evolution and other systems can be explained by this.

Literature Review For Academic Outsiders: What, How, and Why

Source: LessWrong | By: namespace

Good article on how to do a literature review. Could be useful later to see if I can apply some of these things to my review of psychedelics literature.

Chips and Geopolitics

Source: Stratechery | By: Ben Thompson

When the technology isn’t good enough, you want to be the best (features), when it’s better than needed (e.g. phones now), you want to be the most flexible/quickest.

The rest of the article explores this and TSMC’s geopolitical issues.

The EMH Aten’t Dead

Source: LessWrong | By: Richard Meadows

Interesting article that challenges the view that the efficient market hypothesis (the EMH in the title) isn’t dead. Good arguments and analysis of how it’s working in this Corona-time.

Did actually expect more about government-backing of large companies and some discussion about the listed companies (some of them, tech) not really being affected that much by the situation (read: less personnel that is able to work from home).

OpenAI Finds Machine Learning Efficiency Is Outpacing Moore’s Law

Source: SingularityHub | By: Jason Dorrier

Already read this somewhere else, but interesting to read again. The efficiency of AI is going faster than Moore’s Law. This means both that the big ones can get better, and that we can incorporate AI in smaller things (you know, like the size of our brains). Still not really attacking the correlation vs causation arguments, but still very good.

And they built the 5th most powerful computer on Earth.

My Ordinary Life: Improvements Since the 1990s

Source: Gwern

Really cool blog about what has improved in our lives, focus on the daily/small things like VHS tapes, fast internet, group chats (vs telephoning each friend separately, etc).

Fun to read and makes me think about those small things that are now better, e.g. always hot water when you shower (vs only having X minutes, for the whole family).

Post-Prozac Nation

Source: NYT magazine | By: Siddhartha Mukherjee

“The writer Andrew Solomon once evocatively described depression as a “flaw in love” — and certainly, the doctors using Raudixin at Duke had seen that flaw emerge grimly in real time: flaws in self-love (guilt, shame, suicidal thoughts), love for others (blame, aggression, accusation), even the extinction of a desire for love (lethargy, withdrawal, dullness). But these were merely the outer symptoms of a deeper failure of neurotransmitters. The “flaw in love” was a flaw in chemicals.”

About the love, and falling out of love, story of antidepressants. And our understanding of the brain and how it functions.

Studies on serotonin levels showed that higher or lower levels were both found (in depressed populations) and a chemical intervention (lowering serotonin concentration) didn’t affect mood. But maybe the effect is only so in the (chance-of-being) depressed population.

Yet, 75-82% of the effect (depending on the studies included, see article), of antidepressants could be caused by the placebo effect. “But for patients with the most severe forms of depression, the benefit of medications over placebo was substantial. Such patients might have found, as Andrew Solomon did, that they no longer felt “the self slipping out” of their hands. The most severe dips in mood were gradually blunted.”

“Prozac’s positive effects, in other words, depended on the birth of nerve cells in the hippocampi of these mice.” So looking not at serotonin, but the growth of new brain cells.

“Might depression also be a degenerative disease — an Alzheimer’s of emotion, a dementia of mood?”

“If an answer to these questions exists, it may emerge from the work of Helen Mayberg” … “Tracing such sites led her to the subcallosal cingulate, a minuscule bundle of nerve cells that sit near the hippocampus and function as a conduit between the parts of the brain that control conscious thinking and the parts that control emotion.

“A remarkable and novel theory for depression emerges from these studies. Perhaps some forms of depression occur when a stimulus — genetics, environment or stress — causes the death of nerve cells in the hippocampus.”

Very interesting, something I want to learn more about. Start at Helen Mayberg?

Platforms in an Aggregator World

Source: Stratechery | By: Ben Thompson

Interesting (again) analysis of Shopify (that is shop, not spot) and how it competes with other companies (mainly Amazon and Facebook) and the choices they have made. At Queal, we’re on Woocommerce (the open-source version) but I do see where they are at and what they are trying to do.

Why Remote Work Is So Hard—and How It Can Be Fixed

Source: The New Yorker | By: Cal Newport (from Deep Work)

An in-depth analysis of the history of remote work and why it’s hard and what we can do about it.

It’s hard because there is less face-to-face (spontaneous meetings that Apple designed into its new mega donut, uhh office). This relates to both tasks/meetings, and social cues/praise. It’s also hard to do long focussed work at home (you need to separate yourself/your space).

“In many offices, tasks are assigned haphazardly, and there are few systematic ways to track who is working on what or find out how the work is going. In such a chaotic work environment, there are profound advantages to gathering people together in one place.”

Newport makes the analogy with adoption earlier technologies and argues that we get stuck because we try and adapt the new one in the old system. With the current pandemic, we might have such a large shock that we can start fresh.

Personal productivity tips are given (see the book linked above). Blocking time and having office hours (and happy hours?) are also valuable.

Good article overall, and we will see where things take us. Finally also a mention of the ‘tour of duty’ idea from The Alliance.

Effective Altruism and Meaning in Life

Source: EA Forum | By: anon

Good musings on EA and the meaning of life (well, that’s the title). I took away from it that EA isn’t the whole purpose of your life. There is more to it (e.g. love) and more to your career (doing other things).

Note: from June 2020 onward, I’ve been adding interesting links to an Obsidian file, may start this again later if still necessary/useful.

April 2020 (Links)

No, You Didn’t Just Lose Half Of Your Retirement Savings

Source: Mr. Money Moustache |By: MMM

Over time, we can be optimistic. You won’t take out all your money now (don’t do it), so just wait it out and things will get better.

The next software revolution: programming biological cells | Sara-Jane Dunn

Source: Youtube / TED Talk | By: Sara-Jane Dunn

Pogramming cells will be the next computing language. This is a way in which we can tackle diseases, make living software, revolutionalize agriculture.

E.g. crops that have double yield, fend of pests themselves, etc. The same goes for immunity of humans.

Other than most code, it’s self organising (without a ‘brain’ – bottom-up).

Research into embryonic cells, make naive ones again from muscle/other cells.

Made a tool that looks at cells, what leads to what (A => B v C)

Then probed the cell, to learn what is best/fastest way to get the cell back to naive state.

Now working on getting ‘computational biology’ to be a field that has great impact (bridge between software and wetware).

Episode 991: Lives Vs. The Economy

This episode of planet money talks about how much we value a life. The number is $3.000.000 in the US. Because of political reasons there is no difference between saving a kid (with many years to live) or extending an older persons life with 1 year. The price is based on (amongst other things) how much extra we pay people with dangerous jobs (e.g. company pays people 3.000 more per year, and chance of dying on the job is 1/1000 = 3M).

This ties back into the coronavirus measures and how it’s very much worth it now to keep things closed. More discussion also on Sam Harris’ podcast with Paul Bloom.

We can, and should, put a value on life, but calculating it (and all the externalities) is very difficult. And, of course, very unfair. Since we can still save so many lives from neglected tropical diseases (malaria, worms, vitamin c deficiency, diarrhea) for pennies on the dollar.

How Tech Can Build

Source: Stratechery / Ben Thompson

Great review and original opinion by Ben Thompson on how we should be building things again. About taking risk. About not being complacent. His three parting pieces of advice are:

  1. Tech should embrace and accelerate distributed work
  2. Invest in real-world companies that differentiate investment in hardware with software
  3. Find an investment model that works (less upside, but also less risk)

The Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics

Source: Jaibot (Jia), fellow EA

“… it’s okay to notice a problem and only make it a little bit better. If everyone did that, the world would be a vastly better place. If everyone “exploited” opportunities where they could benefit and alleviate people’s suffering at the same time, we’d all be better off.

Nutrition, Programming Burpees, Supplements and Form, Let’s talk about it

Source: Iron Wolf

Discovered this YouTube channel. Awesome burpee content, and this one specifically about food, supplements, etc.

Newtonian Ethics

Source: Slate Star Codex

“We can confirm this to the case by investigating inverse square laws. If morality is indeed an unusual form of gravitation, it will vary with the square of the distance between two objects.”

Interesting take on ethics and something that EA tries to combat (make us not consider the distance). Could be used as a talking point when introducing people to EA (effective altruism).

The Anti-Amazon Alliance

Source: Stratechery

Good article about how to find customers and how different platforms (Amazon, Shopify, Google) are working on that and what is important there. Relevant as Google Shopping will become free to use in the future (EU).

March 2020 (Links)

To Get Good, Go After The Metagame

Source: Commonplace | By: Cedric Chin

“Every sufficiently interesting game has a metagame above it. This is the game about the game. It is often called ‘the meta’.”

The same applies to life, learning to know when to play, where to play, etc. Not only being good at playing the game. Although he also highlights that we should know the underlying/actionable skills too (but then know how to go above/beyond them).

2×02 How Oculus and Libra Will Save Facebook

Source: Bots and Beers

A long-ish article about how Facebook could have a good future ahead. But it needs to change to do this.

“…if Facebook really does want to be the operating system of the virtual world—if they really want to enable the unbanked through cryptographic transactions—they have to increase the public trust by taking stances on marketing and advertising that protect users. There’s no way for them to play both sides of that coin and succeed. To transition to the future, Facebook needs to leave the past behind.”

Build a Bulletproof Notion Workspace

Source: Youtube/William Nutt ( enthusiast)

Notion is the productivity app that I’m using at the moment.

You want to do two things:

  1. Centralized information (data page)
  2. Access Points (home base)

Both will have a top-level page.

PARA: projects, resources, areas (under which first two fall), archives (inactive/completed ones)

Pff, lots of info. See the post.

Politics Without Politicians

Source: New Yorker |By: Nathan Heller

The big idea: letting people do the governing. Randomly selecting people to do a small period of legislative work. As a group you will have enough knowledge and experience. No more politics.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE

Source: Johns Hopkins

Good dashboard for tracking Coronavirus / COVID-19

I’ve been reading more about it and listening to some podcasts (see Timeline). (Verge article, another)

Zero Trust Information

Source: Stratechery

Good article about how Google laid the foundation for remote work already 5 years ago. Then also some more info about that there is more info available (so good and bad equally), but without gatekeepers that information may flow faster.

“Again, this is not to say that everything is fine, either in terms of the coronavirus in the short term or social media and unmediated information in the medium term. There is, though, reason for optimism, and a belief that things will get better, the more quickly we embrace the idea that fewer gatekeepers and more information means innovation and good ideas in proportion to the flood of misinformation which people who grew up with the Internet are already learning to ignore.”

Follow-up blog

If AI’s So Smart, Why Can’t It Grasp Cause and Effect?

Source: Wired | By: Will Knight

AI is bad at causality, so they are building some models that might be better at it. Still early days though.

A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy

Source: Freedom House | By: Sarah Repucci

So yeah, democracy is on the decline for the past 14 years. The US and India are two large ones that are sliding down. China and the treatment of Uighurs is of course still alarming.

“The protests of 2019 have so far failed to halt the overall slide in global freedom, and without greater support and solidarity from established democracies, they are more likely to succumb to authoritarian reprisals.”

“Fierce rhetorical attacks on the press, the rule of law, and other pillars of democracy coming from American leaders, including the president himself, undermine the country’s ability to persuade other governments to defend core human rights and freedoms, and are actively exploited by dictators and demagogues.”

Contemplations on Cascades

Source: Neil Kakkar (blog)

We’ve had several names for it: snowball effect, butterfly effect, and domino effect. But, they are all examples of cascades.” and “Our desires are shaped by others. That’s Mimetic theory.”

The article explains cascades from different perspectives/examples. The interesting lens I’m reading it through is marketing, how can you start a cascade that leads to more and more people to buy.

Toby Ord on the precipice and humanity’s potential futures

Source: 80000 hours | By: Robert Wiblin, Arden Koehler and Keiran Harris

A good introduction to existential risks, first part highlights some factoids of things that happened and risks we face.

Climate and Lifestyle: policy matters

Source: Founders Pledge | By: John Halstead & Johannes Ackva

And this is the follow-up also discussed below.

“if you live in a rich country and live a typical lifestyle, then you probably emit between 5 and 20 tonnes of CO2 each year.” (NL is 9 tonnes, but

Not having kids might look like the best idea (see the graph in the first article), but ignores improvements we will make in the future (less emissions per person).

Policy taken into account, having one less child is comparable to living car-free (or getting an electric car).

” rather than constraining the climate conscious individual, the ability to affect policy through donations to effective climate charities and/or political activism offers an opportunity for outsized positive climate leverage.”

“the expected impact of your personal donations is much larger than any of the lifestyle decisions”

Butttt “it is very important to choose carefully who you donate to.

Don’t do it to offset, do it to do good. “If we only donate to offset our personal emissions and no further, then we hugely restrict our potential impact.”

Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance

Source: Medium / Tomas Pueyo

Good article what measures can work and why we need to do them. Herd immunity is stupid since the virus will keep mutating. Stay the fuck home.

YouTube’s Copyright System Isn’t Broken. The World’s Is.

Source: Youtube / Tom Scott

Discussion about how copyright is broken, how it works now, and how it should maybe work (and why YouTube is just an example, just following the rules, not being ‘bad’ per se themselves).

Taste for Makers

Source: Paul Graham’s blog

“For those of us who design things, these are not just theoretical questions. If there is such a thing as beauty, we need to be able to recognize it. We need good taste to make good things.”

Paul starts with arguing against ‘subjective’ taste. He argues that this isn’t true and that we can define/explore set criteria for beauty. It’s also something you can get better at (just like any other aspect of a job).

He also argues that beauty/taste is very similar across fields.

  • Good design is … simple
    • do more with less, be clear
    • simple means addressing the ‘real’/underlying idea/problem
  • … timeless
    • so good, that long after you’re gone, it’s still the standard
    • stay away from fashion
    • possibly appeal to what people in the past (say 1500) (also) liked
  • … solves the right problem
    • (my interpretation) ask the right question (to …)
  • … suggestive
    • become the background/backbone, not centerpiece
    • let users/observers/etc make their own story (about the Mona Lisa)
  • … often slightly funny
    • don’t take yourself/your design too serious
    • humour shows strength
  • … hard
    • e.g. painting faces, because we’re so good at looking at them
    • but not ‘client is a dick’ hard
  • … looks easy
    • (because you worked so hard on it)
    • because your body/brain does a large part of it on autopilot/10.000 hours of learning
    • e.g. most efficient weightlifting looks beautiful
  • … uses symmetry
    • repetition (left-right), and recursion (fractals)
    • e.g. code that loops in on itself (and is short/efficient)
  • … resembles nature
    • because nature has had a long time to think about the problem
  • … redesign
    • needs confidence to say ‘I need to try again’
    • acknowledge mistakes, iterate
  • … can copy
    • imitate, but not mindlessly
    • be creative (on top of what is already there)
  • … often strange
    • (Graham thinks it’s difficult to cultivate (only) this aspect)
    • (I guess it means staying curious and open to strange-ness)
  • … happens in chunks
    • by people working together
    • e.g. creative hubs
    • (can you do it online though?)
  • … often daring
    • outside the ‘normal’, norms
    • be where conventional wisdom and truth collide

Preserving Optionality: Preparing for the Unknown

Source: Farnam Street | By: Shane Parnish / colleagues

“Instead of focusing on becoming great at one thing, there is another, counterintuitive strategy that will get us further: preserving optionality. The more options we have, the better suited we are to deal with unpredictability and uncertainty. We can stay calm when others panic because we have choices.”

Don’t get pigeonholed into knowing only one thing. Have options, know a lot about different things. Also makes me think of the lessons in Early Retirement Extreme.

February 2020 (Links)

Towards a Conversational Agent that Can Chat About…Anything

Source: Google AI blog | By: Daniel Adiwardana & Thang Luong

“[W]e present Meena, a 2.6 billion parameter end-to-end trained neural conversational model. We show that Meena can conduct conversations that are more sensible and specific than existing state-of-the-art chatbots.”

The score on sensibility and specificity (so not only responding “that is interesting”) was rated at 79%, versus a rating of 86% for humans. The model also tried to limit perplexity.

Can AlphaZero Leap From Go & Chess to Quantum Computing?

Source: Synced

I think I read about this last month too, but here is some more context: “AlphaZero’s success derives from a combination of traditional Monte-Carlo Tree Search (MCTS) and a one-step lookahead deep neural network (DNN). The lookahead information from far down the tree can increase the trained DNN’s precision to produce more focused and heuristic-free exploration. When applied to quantum computing, AlphaZero achieves substantial improvements in both the quality and quantity of good solution clusters compared to earlier methods.”


Source: Aeon | By: Peter von Ziegesar

A story that dives deeper into sex and withholding ejaculation (coitus reservatus).

“Tantrism is an ancient spiritual practice that focuses on sexual ritual to achieve transcendent states. Semen is considered a sacred fluid that must be withheld and reabsorbed into the body.”

Some other reasons for withholding ejaculation mentioned are, 1) not experiencing the depression afterward (can’t identify with this), 2) not getting someone pregnant (because Christianity :S), 3) spiritual enlightenment and meditation, 4) longer sex = more oxytocin (hug factor) (vs dopamine at the climax)

“Theoretically in tantric sex, as Watts noted, the partners have more time to contemplate one another – to literally stare into each other’s eyes.”

“However, ancient claims that withholding semen extends a man’s longevity are hard to take seriously. In fact, it’s having orgasms [or just having sex since those correlate so much] that appears to extend life and health.”

The Western way of seeing tantra is far away from the original ideas (maybe similar to meditation).

“I asked her to forgo the ‘happy ending’. All thoughts in my head disappeared. In terms of meditation, it was the purest state I’d ever experienced, as all sense of self ceased to exist. Perhaps this is what is known as ecstasy, which means literally to stand outside of oneself.”

Why we swing for the fences – GatesNotes

Source: GatesNotes | By: Bill & Melinda Gates

Additional info from The surprising strategy behind the Gates Foundation’s success (Vox – Dylan Matthews)

The main take-home is that with the money the foundation has, they have been able to move even more money towards doing good. Although effective altruists are sometimes critical of the foundation (for not being effective/evidence-driven) this seems like a great accomplishment.

“At the core of our foundation’s work is the idea that every person deserves the chance to live a healthy and productive life.”

“Disease is both a symptom and a cause of inequality, while public education is a driver of equality.”

“We know that philanthropy can never—and should never—take the place of governments or the private sector. We do believe it has a unique role to play in driving progress, though. At its best, philanthropy takes risks that governments can’t and corporations won’t. Governments need to focus most of their resources on scaling proven solutions.”

“By 2019, Gavi had helped vaccinate more than 760 million children and prevent 13 million deaths.”

I think there is too much to quote here, do read the whole thing!

Superfluous Sacks of Meat in a World of Metal and Machine

Source: Medium/Future Crunch

Automation is doing a lot of things, and jobs change, this is called creative destruction (innovation). The article highlights some statistics about how it has led to some job losses (specifically) but also job gains (overall).

Reinventing food: The coming disruption

Source: Exponential View (newsletter) | By: Azeem Azhar

“This analysis was based on a live briefing call for premium members we hosted with researchers at RethinkX, Catherine Tubb and Hannah Tucker. Hannah and Catherine presented their research on new technologies shaping food and agriculture.”

Technological innovation is behind most of the rise in food innovations. We better understand protein and can now gain the efficiency benefits that infers.

“We can design food from the molecule up—rather than breaking down and reconstituting bulk food products as we currently do in food processing.”

“Software-led food design means that we can harness precision biology and bring it together with the age-old practice of fermentation, in a process called precision fermentation (PF).”

And this one is just wow (and seems optimistic, but if the price is low enough, why not) “By 2035, industrial cattle in the US (i.e. cattle within the industrial food system) could become obsolete.”

Precision Fermentation will be a 10x (or more) improvement in land use, methane, livestock needed, energy, water. This will allow us to feed the world (with protein).

Michael Pollan Explains Caffeine Cravings (And Why You Don’t Have To Quit)

Source: NPR (Shots) | By: Terry Gross

Highlights from the new book by Michael Pollan, will probably read it someday, but with caffeine, I don’t have that much of a complex relationship and can appreciate it in small quantities.

Body Count

Source: Epsilon Theory | By: Ben Hunt (via Tim Ferriss newsletter)

Interesting piece about how the government (this time China) wants to control the narrative and not let people know the truth (‘they can’t handle it’).

What Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy can offer in the Anthropocene

Source: Aeon | By: Ed Simon

Victor Frankl wrote “Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalisation” of instinctual drives.

About his time in the Nazi concentration camps and other prisoners, “… the prisoners who seemed to have the best chance of survival were not necessarily the strongest or physically healthiest, but those somehow capable of directing their thoughts towards a sense of meaning.”

“Nothing in logotherapy implies acceptance of the status quo, for the struggle to alter political, material, social, cultural and economic conditions is paramount. What logotherapy offers is something different, a way to envision meaning, despite things not being in your control.”

“What logotherapy offers, rather, is the promise to be in awe at a sunset, even if it does happen to be our last one; to find wonder, meaning, beauty and grace even in the apocalypse, even in hell. The rest is up to us.”

The Future of Humanity is Genetic Engineering and Neural Implants

Source: Data Driven Investor | By: Alyse Sue

“If software ate the world last decade, biology will dominate the next”

“Synthetic biology is programming cells just as we program a computer. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, it allows us to redesign organisms so that they have new abilities.”

“Gingko Bioworks is a platform that allows genetic engineers to program cells. They have developed automated genetic engineering foundries to speed up the process by using robots, lots of robots, to do the work that a PhD would.”

The rest of the article also highlights work being done in brain-computer interface and genetic engineering (of humans).

Yuval Noah Harari’s History of Everyone, Ever

Source: The New Yorker | By: Ian Parker

An interesting profile of Harari. After a recap of his thinking, it goes deeper into his personal life.

“Harari did not invent Big History, but he updated it with hints of self-help and futurology, as well as a high-altitude, almost nihilistic composure about human suffering.”

The Best Things I Learned In 2019

Source: Neil Kakker (personal blog)

Some lessons learned, including that platforms are better than optimizations/hacks.

I really like the part about compounding, something I hope to do with my knowledge too. (and therefore the focussed topics, so shouldn’t read this much other stuff XD).

Growth and the case against randomista development

Source: Effective Altruism Forum | By: John Halstead & Hauke Hillebrandt

“Randomista development (RD) is a form of development economics which evaluates and promotes interventions that can be tested by randomised controlled trials (RCTs). It is exemplified by GiveWell (which primarily works in health) and the randomista movement in economics (which primarily works in economic development).”


AMA: Rob Mather, founder and CEO of the Against Malaria Foundation

Source: Effective Altruism Foundation | By: Rob Matter (founder AMF)

This is where I donate 10% of my income to, so good to read this AMA.

“AMF’s process has remained largely the same over the years: we receive donations from the public that we use to buy long-lasting insecticide-treated anti-malaria nets, ‘LLINs’, and we work with distribution partners, including national Ministries of Health, to distribute them. Independent partners help us monitor all aspects of our programmes, including post-distribution monitoring to help ensure nets are distributed as intended, are hung and used properly, and continue to be used properly in subsequent years. Here’s more information on how we choose which distributions we fund.”

Crazy idea but hear us out… With robots taking people’s jobs, can we rethink this whole working to survive thing?

Source: The Register | By: Thomas Claburn

With automation/robotization comes some newer jobs, but not all jobs are replaced by new ones (e.g. programming the robot). Competition (the ones without the robots) are the ones who will probably lose out most. Still, the effects are ambiguous (so Humans Need Not Apply – book – maybe was too pessimistic?)

“Instead of blaming robots or demonizing gig economy jobs, “what I would recommend is re-thinking the social safety net and having it less tightly coupled with the kind of job you’re doing,” he said. “That’s not easy to do politically but it’s not impossible or crazy.””

The a16z Marketplace 100

Source: a16z | By: Bennett Carroccio and Andrew Chen

Great analysis of why some marketplaces dominate and grow. Interesting to read more detailed if I find myself wanting to build a marketplace.

DNA is Not a Blueprint

Source: Scientific American | By: Sergio Pistoi

“DNA is not a blueprint: it’s a recipe coding for thousands of different proteins that interact with each other and with the environment, just like the ingredients of a cake in an oven.”

Sometimes we can predict/determine an outcome based on genes. Our height is predicted by them, but if you don’t have access to good food, your growth will be stunted.

“… an overwhelming majority of our traits depend on the blending of many genetic and nongenetic factors and therefore are hard to predict from DNA.”

The messy, secretive reality behind OpenAI’s bid to save the world

Source: MIT Technology Review | By: Karen Hao

“The AI moonshot was founded in the spirit of transparency. This is the inside story of how competitive pressure eroded that idealism”

The story recounts the changes at the company over the last few years (of its existence). From non-profit to needing more resources (see Charter) and becoming less open and more publicity-seeking (GTP-2), to more secrecy around the research direction/competitive advantage.

Email Addresses and Razor Blades

Source: Stratechery | By: Ben Thompson

About Harry’s and the acquisition of them that fell through, but even more about Direct To Consumer (DTC) brands (which Queal also is). This one stood out to me:

“In the end, no DTC company was actually good at marketing; they outsourced it to Google and Facebook, which both had the inventory and the capability to spend the billions necessary to develop sophisticated targeted advertising.”

“Those 90 million users don’t just visit Credit Karma directly, they have already shared substantial amounts of their personal financial data, and have consented to receiving emails about their credit scores. They are, in other words, the best possible customer acquisition channel for a company like Intuit, and for all of the reasons I just recounted, customer acquisition is the most valuable part of the digital value chain.”

Why Beautiful Things Make us Happy – Beauty Explained

Source: Youtube/Kurzgesagt

Good explanation video about what makes things beautiful (symmetry, golden ratio, fractal patterns) and why we care about it (an indication of health, danger, etc).

January 2020 (Links)

Genetically modifying mosquitoes to prevent disease carries unknown risks

Source: The Next Web

Genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes that should not reproduce, seem to be doing that (and thus surviving in the wild).

“Thus, like GM soybean or corn, there is legitimate concern about the propagation of new genetic material in wild populations with as yet unknown consequences.”

The End of the Beginning

Source: Stratechery |By: Ben Thompson

“… there may not be a significant paradigm shift on the horizon, nor the associated generational change that goes with it. And, to the extent there are evolutions, it really does seem like the incumbents have insurmountable advantages: the hyperscalers in the cloud are best placed to handle the torrent of data from the Internet of Things, while new I/O devices like augmented reality, wearables, or voice are natural extensions of the phone.”

Ben Thompson argues that there have been three revolutions/paradigm shifts in computing.

  1. One Room, Punch Cards, Batch
  2. Desktop & On-Premises, PC, Deliberate
  3. Everywhere, Cloud/Mobile, Continous

With VR, voice assistants, etc, we probably won’t go out of this third mode.

How Attachment Theory Works in the Therapeutic Relationship

Source: Aeon | By: Elitsa Dermendzhiyska

We are still unclear as to why talk therapy works, but in many cases, it works better than drugs. And why do most of them have about the same efficacy, whilst emploring very different modalities?

“Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, said in 2009 in a widely cited paper: ‘It is remarkable that after decades of psychotherapy research we cannot provide an evidence-based explanation for how or why even our most well-studied interventions produce change.’”

“[T]his alleged equivalence among various therapies is a product of statistics. It says nothing about what works best for each specific individual, nor does it imply that you can pick any therapy and obtain the same benefit.”

The emotional bond with the therapist has been shown to be a reliable predictor of success/healing. The author says that attachment is what is really important.

“On this view, the good therapist becomes a temporary attachment figure, assuming the functions of a nurturing mother, repairing lost trust, restoring security, and instilling two of the key skills engendered by a normal childhood: the regulation of emotions and a healthy intimacy.”

“This pattern of empathising, then re-framing and de-shaming looks uncannily like the mirroring-and-soothing exchanges between mother and infant in the first years of life.”

“… change in therapy occurs not so much in the intellectual communication between client and therapist but in a more imperceptible way – through a conversation between two brains and two bodies.” (this does make me think again of therapy with psychedelics where it’s about a person and his/her feelings in an altered state and without too much intervention (in that session) with the therapist)

“The chief value of psychotherapy, he says, lies in its potential to rekindle our epistemic trust and jumpstart our ability to learn from others in our social environment.”

MuZero: DeepMind’s New AI Mastered More Than 50 Games

Source: Two Minute Papers (Youtube)

Great video about DeepMind’s New AI. Even more generalization.

Elon Musk Is Planning for Climate Apocalypes

Source: Jacobin | By: Paris Marx

Wow, what a piece. I guess it’s good to read things from another perspective, but I can’t really get my head around how other people sometimes think.

Visa, Plaid, Networks, and Jobs

Source: Stratechery | By: Ben Thompson

Great piece about networks and a good history lesson on why credit cards are even a thing.

“It’s easy to forget just how many things a business that takes credit cards does not need to do: it does not need to extend credit, it does not need to collect payment, it does not need to handle excess amounts of cash. It does not, as Nocera noted, need to have much back office functionality at all. Instead banks provide the credit, Visa provides the infrastructure, and merchants pay around 3% of their sales.”

Reid Hoffman on Systems, Levers, and Quixotic Quests (Ep. 85)

Source: Medium | By: Tyler Cowen (Podcast with Reid Hoffman)

“I guess what I would say is that I tend to think in terms of systems — Dewey was a system thinker — but then I tend to think in terms of Archimedean levers, by which you change the systems.”

Well, a few things. One is, philosophy allows you to articulate theses with clarity. One of the things that philosophy tries to do is say, “Well, what’s your actual argument? What’s your actual theory? What’s your actual position?” That actually ties into one of the things that I give advice to entrepreneurs and to myself, which is to write out your clearest set of investment theses about what it is you believe the world is and is becoming, what your strategy is at making it happen, and why you can have a rare or unique position in so doing. And then articulating theories around, for example, having a theory of human nature, so that if you say, “The reason why I think this product will succeed is because this is where humanity will go when these kinds of technologies and these kinds of products and services are made available to them within their cultures and within their incentives.” “

“I think it’s also important to choose when you compete, which is frequently an error. I’d say that some of the patterns of how you do that is at least very well described within a board game context.”

Biotech Raises $85 Million To Develop Anti-Aging Technology

Source: World Health Net (via H+Weekly Newsletter)

“Aging is similar to muscular dystrophy in slowing down the mitochondrial replacement process; Epirium claims to have developed technology that can reverse the decline of the ever important mitochondrial function in aging and disease.”

“Epirium claims to have developed a novel pharmacological approach to treat diseases caused by mitochondrial depletion and dysfunction, and the company has carried out proof of concept human studies with plans to move to clinical trials in 2020.”

One to watch, and of course, always stay vigilant.

Scientists use stem cells from frogs to build first living robots

Source: The Guardian | By: Ian Sample

“They are living, programmable organisms.” When talking about programmable ‘computers’.

The robots, which are less than 1mm long, are designed by an “evolutionary algorithm” that runs on a supercomputer. The program starts by generating random 3D configurations of 500 to 1,000 skin and heart cells. Each design is then tested in a virtual environment, to see, for example, how far it moves when the heart cells are set beating. The best performers are used to spawn more designs, which themselves are then put through their paces.”

Scientists Extend Lifespan of Worms by 500 Percent

Source: Futurism | By: Kristin Houser

“But now, in a study published in the journal Cell Reports in July, an international team of researchers has found a way to make the worms live a full five times longer. That would be equivalent to a human reaching their 400th birthday — and the scientists think the new study could be an important step along the path to making that a reality.”

There is quite the divide between us humans and C.elegans, but it’s good to see that this much progress has been made with them.

“Past research had found a link between two signaling pathways in C. elegans — the insulin signaling pathway and the target of rapamycin pathway — and aging. Specifically, scientists found that altering the former pathway doubled a worm’s lifespan, while altering the latter increased it by 30 percent. Logically, that means altering both pathways should increase the worms’ lifespan by 130 percent. But as the authors of this new C. elegans discovered, it actually increased their lifespan by upwards of 500 percent.”

I think this research was also mentioned in Lifespan by David Sinclair.

We May Not Have to Age So Fast

Source: WSJ/David Sinclair’s Newsletter

“We all age chronologically with the passage of time, but what about our bodies? Is physiological aging inevitable too? A growing cadre of biologists is starting to say no, thanks to developments in the field of epigenetics, which studies not our DNA itself but the processes that determine how our genes “express” themselves in directing our cells throughout our lives.”

“… epigenetic markers don’t just measure aging but help to cause it.

The article mentions more of what is in Lifespan. It also highlights that research in mice is progressing fast, but human trials are still very limited.

Your Brain Is Not an Onion with a Tiny Reptile Inside

Source: PsyArXiv (via VeryBadWizards podcast)

“A widespread misconception in much of psychology holds that (1) as vertebrate animals evolved, “newer” brain structures were added over existing”older” brain structures and(2) these newer, more complex structures endowed animals with newer and more complex psychological functions, behavioral flexibility, and language. This belief, though widely shared in our introductory textbooks, has long been discredited among neurobiologists and stands in contrast to the clear and unanimous agreement on these issues among those studying nervous system evolution. We bring psychologists up to date on this issue by describing the more accurate model of neural evolution, and we provide examples of how this inaccurate view may have impeded progress in psychology. We urge psychologists to abandon this mistaken view of human brains.”

86% of introductory psychology books espouse this wrongheaded view.

The idea of an older animalistic brain buried deep without our newer, more civilized outer layer is referenced widely. Carl Sagan’s (1978) Pulitzer prize-winning book “The Dragons of Eden(which I recently reviewed) …

“The first problem is that these ideas reflect a scala naturaeview of evolution, in which animals can be arranged linearly from “simple” to the most “complex” organisms. This view is unrealistic in that neural and anatomical complexity evolved repeatedly within many independent lineages.” And the ‘newer’ animals are not per se better/more complex.

“Instead, the correct view of evolution is that animals radiated from common ancestors. Within these radiations, complex nervous systems and sophisticated cognitive abilities evolved independently many times.”

“The final—and most important—problem with this mistaken view is the implication that anatomical evolution proceeds in the same fashion as geological strata, with new layers added over existing ones. Instead, much evolutionary change consists of transforming existing parts.”

“all vertebrates possess the same basic brain—and forebrain—regions.” All mammals have a prefrontal cortex (but the size of ours is bigger).

The whole notion that system 2 is better than system 2 (Thinking, Fast and Slow) is therefore also flawed/at least if you take from it that other animals don’t have planning or self-control.

How the Dutch Use Architecture to Feed the World

Source: ArchDaily | By: Niall Patrick Walsh

Interesting photo series about our Dutch greenhouses, great pictures, and illuminating to see.

Technologies to watch in 2020

Source: Nature | By: Esther Landhuis

Some technologies for better understanding/reading our biology (RNA, macromolecule), learning more about our microbiome, computational models of cancer (so you can do ‘simulations’), better gene therapy (in mice).

The Tragic iPad

Source: Stratechery | By: Ben Thompson

The article describes the missed chance of the iPad. It didn’t allow for many developers to make good money and missed offering the unique features it has (next to being a thing on which you watch things).

Imagining Our Future Through Tech

Source: A16Z Conference 2019

Data – Algorithms

  • but missing ethical & privacy, and business models
  • take selfies – detect skin cancer – who to send it to?

How will life look like in 2030

  • smart toilet – looks for health markers/problems
  • spider silk shirt – with sensors and actuators
  • room that reconfigers itself (for different needs during the day)
  • exact meals for you
  • physical and avatar looks (smart mirror)
  • smart coach (listens to meetings etc) – assumes ‘smart/creative’ AI
  • work examples – AI helping – AR contact lenses
  • bitcoin and influencer coin :S
  • exoskeleton – for helping move
  • Autopods
  • Rent cocktail bar for few hours (AR again to fit it)
  • CRISPR cat, glow in the dark

All very/too optimistic about the speed of progress and lots of things we’re not going to use. But interesting take nonetheless.

Why You Should Be Optimistic About the Future

Source: A16Z Conference 2019 | By: Kevin Kelly & Marc Andreesen

Richest man India, providing (almost) free internet for 500M poorest people.

Ideas – is it going to work (meh), when is it going to work (timing is the hard part) (i.e. fiber optics already in Paris 100y ago)

Business models (AI)

  • horizontal provider
  • vertical

Biological science is at a turning point. From discovery to doing something with it (programming it).

More from less – Andrew McAfee

Positive view of robots/drones/machines fighting each other – less people die (but not pro war, but if, then not people dying).

Andreesen Horowitz thinks we’re already in the ‘singularity’ (since 300 years or so ago). Many indicators are much better than before, and doing so exponentially (versus being static for ages). We already have many of the technologies and techniques to make our lives better, we just need to execute on some of them.

The next few are via H+ Weekly newsletter and Future Plus (monthly/bi-weekly) newsletter.

(from the second one itself) “These vaccines now form the backbone of child and maternal health efforts around the world. The results speak for themselves. In 2010, seven million children died before reaching the age of five. Adjusting for population growth, that figure today should be eight million – instead, it’s just over five million a year.”

Vietnam grapples with an unexpected surge in solar power

Source: Economist

(from Future Plus) “Vietnam went from almost no solar in 2017 to more than Australia by the end of 2019. It’s now ten years ahead of its original clean energy targets.”

“Building a new [coal] plant takes the better part of a decade. Solar farms, in contrast, incite far less opposition and take about two years to build.”

Overlevingskans voor mensen met kanker opnieuw toegenomen (Dutch)

Source: NOS (Dutch news website)

(from FP) “The Dutch Cancer Registry says that the five-year cancer survival rate in the Netherlands has increased from 42% in 1989 to 65% in 2018.”

Augmented Reality in a Contact Lens: It’s the Real Deal

Source: IEEE Spectrum

“Today, Mojo Vision announced that it has done just that—put 14K pixels-per-inch microdisplays, wireless radios, image sensors, and motion sensors into contact lenses that fit comfortably in the eyes.”

“The first application, says Steve Sinclair, senior vice president of product and marketing, will likely be for people with low vision—providing real-time edge detection and dropping crisp lines around objects.”

Wow, that is really cool and it would be great to see this type of technology available as a consumer product.

Facebook has trained an AI to navigate without needing a map

Source: MIT Technology Review

“A team at Facebook AI has created a reinforcement learning algorithm that lets a robot find its way in an unfamiliar environment without using a map. Using just a depth-sensing camera, GPS, and compass data, the algorithm gets a robot to its goal 99.9% of the time along a route that is very close to the shortest possible path, which means no wrong turns, no backtracking, and no exploration. This is a big improvement over previous best efforts.”

An AI Epidemiologist Sent the First Warnings of the Wuhan Virus

Source: WIRED

“The BlueDot algorithm scours news reports and airline ticketing data to predict the spread of diseases like those linked to the flu outbreak in China.”

Algorithms aren’t always so good at predicting things and I’ve previously read that the Google Flu prediction AI was really bad. So this is in a way good news to hear (now the trouble is in how far we can build on it and use it actionably).

“Khan says the algorithm doesn’t use social media postings because that data is too messy. But he does have one trick up his sleeve: access to global airline ticketing data that can help predict where and when infected residents are headed next. It correctly predicted that the virus would jump from Wuhan to Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo in the days following its initial appearance.”

CRISPR Could Fry All Cancer User Newly-Found T-Cell

Source: Hackaday

“One of the human body’s greatest features is its natural antivirus protection. If your immune system is working normally, it produces legions of T-cells that go around looking for abnormalities like cancer cells just to gang up and destroy them. They do this by grabbing on to little protein fragments called antigens that live on the surface of the bad cells and tattle on their whereabouts to the immune system. Once the T-cells have a stranglehold on these antigens, they can release toxins that destroy the bad cell, while minimizing collateral damage to healthy cells.”

But it doesn’t always work (e.g. cancer pretending to be a healthy cell). Now they are working with a T-Cell that should identify every cancer cell.

“This T-cell interacts with a certain protein called MR1 that appears on the surface of every cell in the body. When it analyzes the MR1 proteins of cancer cells, it can tell that the metabolism going on inside the cell is distorted, and reports this miscreant cell back to the immune system.”

World First: Genetically Engineered Moth Is Released Into an Open Field

Source: Technology Networks

“The diamondback moth, also known as Plutella xylostella, is one of the most destructive insect pests of brassica crops such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and canola. … “The diamondback moth is a global pest that costs $4-5 billion annually and has developed resistance to most insecticides, making it very difficult to manage.” “

Before I’ve only heard of these ideas related to malaria and ticks (Lyme). And they also talk about the former: “Oxitec has now joined the fight against malaria, working to develop solutions to two malaria-transmitting mosquito species.”

“This study demonstrates the immense potential of this exciting technology as a highly effective pest management tool, which can protect crops in an environmentally sustainable way and is self-limiting in the environment.”

December 2019 (Links)

Title: An Epidemic of AI Misinformation

A good critique of too much hype in the AI community and general public. We are still not too far along creating ‘smart’ AI and what it can do at this moment is still very limited.

Title: Carbon capture just got cheaper and more efficient

“The device, reported in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, works a lot like a battery. It absorbs carbon dioxide from air passing over its electrodes. It could be made as small and large as needed, making it easy to use at different carbon dioxide emission sources.”

I wonder if there is a Moore’s Law for the cost of carbon capture over time. It seems like it’s improving quite rapidly now.

“The system uses about one gigajoule of energy per ton of carbon dioxide captured.”

Title: Portability and Interoperability

“This is about as concise a distillation of the “commoditize your complements” approach as you will see, at least as far as data is concerned: if you make Facebook better, you can have it all; if you don’t, or are remotely competitive, you are cut off.”

Or in other words, Facebook (and others) act like they give access/interoperability but only do this for non-essential parts.

Title: Why Climate Alarmism Hurts Us All

It’s real, it’s happening, but 4 billion people will not die by 2035. Quite a good read on the scientific consensus and the pain that exaggeration of this can do (e.g. kids being ‘eco-depressed’).

Title: The Science of the Butterfly Effect

Very good (and so beautifully video) about chaos (from small differences in beginning conditions).

Title: Peter Singer on being provocative, EA, how his moral views have changed, & rescuing children drowning in ponds

The controversy around Peter Singer’s abortion standpoints helped spark new sales of his ethics book (which also talks about global poverty, animal suffering, and Effective Altruism).

“I think that EA has the potential to really transform philanthropy generally, and although there are certainly some high net worth individuals who give disproportionally a large amount of course, but still, when you look at philanthropy, say here in the United States or other countries too, the bulk of it is not just the huge donors.”

Title: A Framework for Regulating Competition on the Internet

“From a practical standpoint, this means that platforms should have significant latitude in mergers and acquisitions, but significant scrutiny in terms of vertical foreclosure, rent-seeking, bundling, and self-dealing.”

A more high-level analysis of regulations for both platforms and aggregators.

Title: Small rockets are the next space revolution | Peter Beck

Great intro of what Rocket Labs does and why it matters (democratization of access to space).

Title: 99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2019

1. New surveys revealed that the population of humpback whales in the South Atlantic region now number 24,900 — almost 93% of their population size before they were hunted to the brink of extinction.

There are 98 more stats just like this waiting for you. There is still some good news out there. And we should be motivated to take action, because we can achieve good things if we do.

Title: Tradeoffs – The Currency of Decision Making

We can’t do everything perfectly, so we should focus on what we value. But we rarely do, we treat time like it’s infinite. There is always a tradeoff, know that it’s there.

Title: David Chalmers on the nature and ethics of consciousness

These are the notes of the related podcast (80000 hours). The podcast is with David Chalmers and is about consciousness. Even some talk about eating meat (and of course that philosophers don’t always practice what they preach).

Title: Aubrey de Grey | Reaching Escape Velocity in Longevity for Most Alive Today | VISION WEEKEND 2019

Optimistic talk about how we can reach escape velocity, i.e. live forever.

Title: Richard Feynman was wrong about beauty and truth in science

“You can recognise truth by its beauty and simplicity.” is the statement of Feynman the author is going against. Ockham’s razor can be true (when two theories are comparable, the simpler might be better/true-er).

The attack on beauty focusses on the fact that beauty is something we humans say. Here I think there is a misunderstanding of the term. I think that beauty could be used as an analogy to ‘hard to vary’ or a good explanation according to Popper.

November 2019 (Links)

Title: AlphaStar: Grandmaster level in StarCraft II using multi-agent reinforcement learning

Still not the ‘creativity’ that I think will be the general AI, but it’s not any less impressive!

Title: New GMO Mosquitoes Aim to Eradicate Malaria, But Could Be Disastrous

Go for the clicks XD Title is way too alarming (and expert they spoke to is from another field), but good explainer videos linked. Still not sure how fast this is going to happen, but why not.

One point I think about is that we also have gotten rid of mosquitos here in Europe, and our system didn’t break down. And from the series ‘Unnatural Selection’, I can also imagine that people who suffer from malaria really want this!

Title: How to Use Occam’s Razor Without Getting Cut

Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” And for scientists, “When you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is better.

Title: The first map of America’s food supply chain is mind-boggling

Really cool maps of how food is moved across America. (actual paper)

Title: Tech and Liberty

A thorough analysis of free speech and how the laws of the US and tech companies collide. Nuance should be taken into account.

Title: The Multiverse

A bit above my pay-grade, but ink-blots as an analogy for electrons with regard to the multiverse.

“So too the electron occupies many states simultaneously, but not all states can be observed simultaneously (again, to push another analogy: this is akin to the fact that you cannot observe many different times simultaneously. You see a discrete time on the clock, even though you know there must be a continuous number of possible times that have happened and will happen). “

“[U]nlike what you may have heard it is not the case that an electron can be simultaneously a wave and a particle all at once in a universe.”

A very interesting newsletter that is worth reading 🙂 About tech (trends).

Title: Polyamory Is Growing—And We Need To Get Serious About It

A good, and long, read about polyamory and how it can work, how many people do it, and how to deal with it as a society. Very interesting.

Title: The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss

A great website that reviews health and nutrition books. This one gets a 60% score (meh), especially because of the low scientific accuracy, but ok healthfulness (if you follow the advice).

Title: Biggest Private Coal Miner Goes Bust as Trump Rescue Fails

Good news, and bye-bye mining (and hi to cleaner energy of course).

Title: Cancer mortality predictions for 2019 in Latin America

Just like the above one, linked from Future Crunch newsletter. Cancer mortality rates are falling.

“Between 1990 and 2019, mortality from all neoplasms is predicted to fall by about 18% in Argentina, 26% in Chile, 14% in Colombia, 17% in Mexico and 13% in Venezuela, corresponding to almost 0.5 million avoided cancer deaths. No decline was observed in Brazil and Cuba.”

Title: London Says Air Pollution Fell By Roughly A Third After New Emissions Rules

“According to the report, nitrogen dioxide pollution has fallen by 36% in the central zone since February 2017, when the city first announced a “toxicity charge” on older vehicles.”

Title: Maybe It’s Not YouTube’s Algorithm That Radicalizes People

“The paper, written by Penn State political scientists Kevin Munger and Joseph Phillips, tracks the explosive growth of alternative political content on YouTube, and calls into question many of the field’s established narratives. It challenges the popular school of thought that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is the central factor responsible for radicalizing users and pushing them into a far-right rabbit hole.”

“Instead, the paper suggests that radicalization on YouTube stems from the same factors that persuade people to change their minds in real life—injecting new information—but at scale. The authors say the quantity and popularity of alternative (mostly right-wing) political media on YouTube is driven by both supply and demand.”

Title: Model hallucinations

“Psychedelics have a remarkable capacity to violate our ideas about ourselves. Is that why they make people better?”

There isn’t a consensus about the ‘I’ and how our brains exactly work, there are many theories from different perspectives. Psychedelics might be a way to come closer to the truth.

“A possible solution comes from the predictive processing theory of cognition, the second set of principles we need to introduce. The details of the framework are still hotly debated, especially among its proponents. However, in broad outline, it views the brain as a prediction machine that models the causal structure of the world to anticipate future inputs. Any discrepancies between an expectation and an input take the form of an error signal that demands a response from the organism – either by updating the internal model, or acting to reduce the unpredicted input.” and “One startling consequence of predictive coding is that perception becomes little more than a kind of controlled hallucination. We do not experience the external world directly, but via our mind’s best guess as to what is going on out there.”

“There’s now considerable evidence about the patterns of brain activity that correspond to the hierarchical self-model. These neural correlates are implemented in certain brain circuits, in particular the salience network and the default mode network.” and “To simplify things a bit, we can say that the default mode network is frequently linked to the narrative self, while the salience network is associated with a more minimal, embodied self and its affective states.”

Let me stop quoting here, you should read the article if interested. The link to psychedelics is that they break the models or make them more open to new paths/interpretations. You will have another way of seeing yourself.

We are making explanations now, but before we didn’t have any, how and why?

One start is the Scientific Revolution, so what happened there (that lead to better explanations)? It isn’t that knowledge comes from the senses. It also isn’t induction. Scientific knowledge is not based on anything, it’s based on conjecture! and tested by observation. But this also isn’t all, we had conjecture and observations (e.g. greek myths why it rained).

“This easy variability is the sign of a bad explanation, because, without a functional reason to prefer one of countless variants, advocating one of them, in preference to the others, is irrational. So, for the essence of what makes the difference to enable progress, seek good explanations, the ones that can’t be easily varied, while still explaining the phenomena.”

“The search for hard-to-vary explanations is the origin of all progress. It’s the basic regulating principle of the Enlightenment. So, in science, two false approaches blight progress. One is well known: untestable theories. But the more important one is explanationless theories. Whenever you’re told that some existing statistical trend will continue, but you aren’t given a hard-to-vary account of what causes that trend, you’re being told a wizard did it.”

Title: Free Will / .. Consciousness, Creativity, Explanations, Knowledge and Choice

Another article from Brett Hall (I’ve been going through his website a bit). He argues for free will as something that is real and emergent.

He agrees there is no ‘naive/libertarian’ free will (that something from outside the laws of physics makes you ‘free’).

He also states that we humans are unique as ‘universal explainers’ or entities that can create explanatory knowledge.

“The creativity is a unique thing people have and other animals do not.  So we “feel” consciousness in ourselves but we “observe” creativity in others. I postulate: Creativity (of the kind where people create explanations – create knowledge) is just the outward manifestation of an inner consciousness. What it “feels like” to be creative is “consciousness”.

Hall also argues that our ‘self’ really is the person that is lost in thought, maybe even more than the meditator who ‘discovers’ himself.

Title: The Google Squeeze

An article about why Google has stayed relevant (and very profitable). One key point is just more ads in search results, especially on mobile. In the article the hotel listing companies are used as an example. And it shows how and Amazon find a way around it (get customers to come to them directly).

Title: Modern genetics will improve health and usher in “designer” children

A company called Genomic Prediction is letting people choose their babies (when doing IVF), based on disease and/or ‘positive’ traits. No CRISPR or anything like that, but selection. Also: designer babies.

“In 2007 he and his colleagues used models to show that for a condition with a prevalence of 10% in the general population, approximately 10,000 volunteers are required to identify the snps marking the 5% of those at highest risk of developing that condition.”

“In the end, then, it is generally a good idea to remember that human beings have already been optimised by a powerful agent called natural selection. Trade-offs between different pieces of physiology, even in domestic animals, will have been forged in the crucible of evolution and will generally be optimal, or close to it. Genetic tinkering may sometimes improve things. But by no means always.”

Title: The plant-based diet | Michael Greger, MD, | TEDxBismarck

Eat plant-based, the ones with complete cell walls.

Title: The Dawn of Cheap and Easy DNA Writing

Molecular Assemblies is trying to revolutionize synthetic biology. They want to write DNA molecules using enzymes. They have $12 million in funding, there are at least 7 other companies trying too.

George Church, a geneticist at Harvard University who is a cofounder of both the Human Genome Project and GP-write, says chemical DNA synthesis methods generally induce an error every 1 in 300 bases. Error-correction methods can improve the figure to 1 in 10,000. When enzymes naturally copy a strand of DNA in cells, however, the error rate is close to one in a billion. But he agrees with Kosuri that no enyzmatic synthesis company has come even close to such low error rates.”

Title: Integration and Monopoly

That Apple is integrated leads to more advantages than only costs (usability and leverage).

A potential downside is that people are locked-in. So that with a bad keyboard, they don’t leave (but do complain).

Title: A network of science: 150 years of Nature papers

An awesome overview of the papers that were published in Nature. It would be cool to be able to do this for my new field too.

Title: The world’s first Gattaca baby tests are finally here

Designer babies are here (or at least so does Genomic Prediction claim).

Title: Latest advances in aging research and drug discovery

This field is still young (as we all hope to stay), so much needs to be done before we can say that we can do intervention X to live 10 healthy extra lives.

One key idea from the paper is to put the focus on healthspan (instead of lifespan) and get support for those interventions easier.

Another one is that we need good markers of age(ing). If we know what reliably happens during ageing, we can see if interventions prevent/reverse this from happening.

Title: What We Can Learn From the Near-Death of the Banana

Bananas are (here) an example of how our system is quite fragile, so fragile that one disease could wipe out all banana’s (because 99% are genetically identical).

Maybe we can innovate our way out of this mess (genetic editing), but then buyers/sellers should want them.

Title: I Found Work on an Amazon Website. I Made 97 Cents an Hour.

So the average is more like $1.77, but yeah. And these are tasks mostly done by Americans. Not cool Amazon (but also showing that some people are willing to do this work for this wage).

Mechanical Turk is now one of a handful of big players in the field known as crowdwork or microwork. (One crowdwork company, Prolific, used by academic researchers, enforces a minimum wage: $6.50 an hour.)” (better)

The article continues to list why some people ‘turk’, and it’s rather depressing (e.g. to pay for insulin).

The customers range from universities and NYtimes (where this article is published) to businesses that need transcribing of business cards.

In the end, it could be a good practice, but then I think it should be used mostly as opportunity by people from countries with lower wages.

Title: Ghost ships, crop circles, and soft gold: A GPS mystery in Shanghai

Very interesting, about the scrambling of GPS and how there is a big mystery unfolding in Shanghai.

Title: Heliogen’s new tech could unlock renewable energy for industrial manufacturing

At its core, Heliogen is taking a well-known technology called concentrated solar power, and improving its ability to generate heat with new computer vision, sensing and control technologies, says Gross.” (also backed by Bill Gates)

Title: Terminally ill scientist ‘transforms himself into world’s first full cyborg’

(note that the ads on this website are just too much) Good story about how a doctor has given his body many upgrades/adjustments to live longer and thrive.

Title: TEDxBrussels – David Deutsch – The Unknowable & how to prepare for it

If we look towards the future, we will become worse at predicting specific events (because of our creativity and faster innovation). We can use general explanatory knowledge to prepare for the future (which reaches beyond the planning horizon).

Title: Could Carbon Capture Save Us From Climate Disaster?

Carbon capture to combat climate change, and… to make money! Now we have to scale it up.

Title: Cigarette Smoking Among U.S. Adults Hits All-Time Low

Some good news (again via the Future Crunch newsletter). Smoking is on the way down (will it ever go close to zero?)

Title: Starlink is a very big deal

A long read on why Starlink will make money and democratize access to the internet!

October 2019 (Links)

Title: Beachheads and Obstacles

In the article, we get an analysis of the hardware ambitions of Facebook and Amazon. Where the first isn’t making real progress, the second might have a shot at dominating the home.

Title: To Pay Attention, the Brain Uses Filters, Not a Spotlight

First researchers looked at how we focus on specific inputs, now they are looking at how we suppress other stimuli.

One system identified with regards to the suppression is the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN). This system is an old (from an evolutionary point of view) part of the brain.

Title: The China Cultural Clash

The article asks and reiterates that China has been unfairly using (abusing?) tech from the US, and attacking it when feelings got hurt.

“Whoever was controlling the Great Cannon would use it to selectively insert malicious JavaScript code into search queries and advertisements served by Baidu, a popular Chinese search engine.”

With international trade (WTO), the democracy didn’t spread equally as well.

“China is not simply resisting Western ideals of freedom, but seeking to impose their own.”

Technology can be a force for good, but also multiply the control a state has.

“The documents, revealed by the Guardian for the first time, lay out how ByteDance, the Beijing-headquartered technology company that owns TikTok, is advancing Chinese foreign policy aims abroad through the app.”

Title: Democracy in Poland Is in Mortal Danger

Is Poland following Hungary (and Turkey)? It seems that way as things are going. The US is pushing in the wrong direction. Hmm…

Title: Trump Betrayed the Kurds. He Couldn’t Help Himself.

So yeah, let’s just leave it with this quote “President Trump doesn’t interpret his abandonment of America’s faithful and intrepid Kurdish ally as betrayal because he can’t even understand why betrayal is a vice. It’s like trying to explain color to a person born with no eyesight.”

Title: Google and Ambient Computing

Google is coming into your house. They are switching from organising information, to actively helping you be productive: “to “be helpful” Google needs to be everywhere, which by extension means the company needs to be trusted.”

A way to capture this idea is with ambient computing, always being there, always available. And not dependant on a single device (or price).

Title: Muddy America : Color Balancing The Election Map – Infographic

A very interesting graph of how Americans voted. Do scroll down to see the breakdown.

Title: How this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics influenced GiveWell’s work

A short blog about how the work of the Nobel Prize winners in Economics have influenced the work of GiveWell. Especially on why they recommend deworming initiatives.

Title: Investors hope psychedelics are the new cannabis. Are they high?

“In January atai Life Sciences, the German biotech company he founded last year, acquired a majority stake in Perception Neuroscience, a biopharmaceutical firm from New York which is developing a medication for pyschiatric conditions like depression from the drug…”

“In particular, backers think, psychedelic drugs could be used to treat mental-health disorders like depression, anxiety and addiction. In April Imperial College London, inaugurated the first research centre dedicated to psychedelics research. Last month Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore launched America’s first such scientific outfit.”

“The market for antidepressants is dispiritingly large. Over 300m people worldwide suffer from depression. A report last year by the Lancet Commission, a body of experts, estimated that mental-health disorders could cost the global economy $16trn by 2030. Sales of antidepressants were $14bn in 2017…”

“Field Trip Ventures, a Canadian startup, plans to open speciality clinics where they could be administered (and clinical trials conducted).”

It is great that The Economist is talking about the investment here and why it’s happening (decriminalisation and research into the effectiveness).

Title: When should an Effective Altruist be vegetarian?

In this post, another EA-aligned person talks about her considerations of being (or not) vegetarian, and if this has any value/impact on the world.

The first part of the posts focusses on how helping animals (i.e. not eating meat) is not effective (and this you shouldn’t do it?). I don’t really get the analogy, since if I change my behaviour at no cost (you can cook good food with veggies, the costs are not much higher/cheaper if you plan accordingly).

“For instance, if instead of eating vegetarian you ate a bit frugally and saved and donated a few dollars per meal, you would probably do more good (see calculations lower in this post).”

This sounds plausible, but maybe I’m also swayed by the argument of not doing more/no harm (in as much as that is possible). Or I think that it’s just as easy to be frugal as to be vegetarian (says the person with a company that makes convenient vegetarian meals XD).

“For instance, vegetarianism means spending a bit more time searching for vegetarian alternatives, researching nutrition, buying supplements, writing emails back to people who invite you to dinner explaining your dietary restrictions, etc.”

But is this not a one-time investment? And I don’t buy supplements, just eat varied. And I liked cooking before (so same time-investment). She does mention creatine in the next paragraph, I take that for weightlifting and I’m not sure about the effect on IQ (and IQ itself, but that’s another story).

” If you would happily pay this much (in my case, less than $0.002) to eat meat on many occasions, you probably shouldn’t be a vegetarian.”

See the blog for the calculations. I guess that my calculations would be a bit different, and that I don’t think I’m paying much (if anything) extra. And I guess that I don’t see these costs as money I would go and donate (as it’s a percentage of total income, not free cashflow). But all in all a good blog and interesting to read.

Ohh and I liked this part of the first comment very much: “Vegetable production does have negative effects on animals. However, most of the crops grown in the United States are converted into feed for factory-farmed animals. It takes 10,000 calories of crops to feed an animal to create 1000 calories of food for a human. So the negative effects on animals of crop farming is /also/ reduced, in fact dramatically, by not eating meat.”

Title: How Magic Mushrooms Can Help Smokers Kick The Habit

From Short Wave, a new science podcast from NPR.

“New research shows that psilocybin might be an effective treatment for diseases such as depression and addiction. While the work is still in its early stages, there are signs that psilocybin might help addicts shake the habit by causing the brain to talk with itself in different ways.”

“Psilocybin seems to work because it temporarily rewires the brain, according to Johnson. Sections that don’t normally talk to each other appear to communicate more, and parts of the brain that normally do talk to each other talk less.”

Title: Op truffeltrip in Zandvoort: waarom psychedelica een comeback maken (Dutch)

Story about Truffles Therapy (owner, Chi, 31). Interesting, but not much new info for me. But good exposure. Well, ok, I think the rituals and mystical aspects shouldn’t really be part of it, but that is just my opinion/view. Ok, on a second reading, it’s really spiritual/religious (“I’m just a servant of the truffles”).

“‘We willen de golden standard zijn in deze industrie,’ legt Schirp uit aan zijn bureau. Synthesis staat voor de synthese tussen wetenschap en spiritualiteit. ‘Dat is niet makkelijk. We werken met krachtige middelen en moeten daar verantwoordelijk mee omgaan. Daarom investeren we veel in medische kwaliteit. Dit is een ongereguleerde markt, als je daarin de beste standaarden wilt hebben, dan moet je die zelf bouwen.’” (ambition of Synthesis to become the gold standard of retreats)

“Ik moet glimlachen om de brief van John en herken de tweestrijd tussen de gedachten. Toch: weken later ben ik nog steeds gestopt met roken, drink ik bijna geen alcohol en eet ik vrijwel geen vlees. Ik voel me gelukkiger, rustiger, erger me nauwelijks aan zaken waarover ik eerst geïrriteerd zou raken. Een trein die te laat komt, een serveerster die m’n bestelling twee keer vergeet, iemand die voordringt in de rij – in het licht van de oneindigheid van het universum stelt het allemaal weinig voor.” (the final experience of the reporter)

Title: Biopunks are Pushing the Limits With Implants and DIY Drugs

“Lee is part of a loosely con­nected group of biohackers—garage geneticists, chemists, and grinders (those who modify their own bodies)—who are stretching the capabilities of DIY augmentation.”

It’s so interesting to see what others are doing with Biohacking. I wonder what will become of this, also in relationship to life extension and CRISPR/gene-editing.

Title: Psilocybin Sessions: Psychedelics could help people with addiction and anxiety

A 60 minutes documentary (video) on Psychedelics and how it’s being used with addiction and anxiety.

It highlights the research that is being done and highlights awesome people like Roland Griffiths, Matthew Johnson, Michael Pollan.

Title: The Internet and the Third Estate

How to look at free speech (on Facebook, et al.) through the lens of the ‘estates’, 1) executive, 2) legislative, 3) judicial, 4) media, 5) you/everyone that now has a voice.

“What is published on the Internet, meanwhile, can reach anyone anywhere, drastically increasing supply and placing a premium on discovery; this shifted economic power from publications to Aggregators.”

Quoting an earlier article: “… the most successful politicians in an aggregated world are not those who serve the party but rather those who tell voters what they most want to hear.”

What is the power of Facebook: “The first and most straightforward way is Facebook putting its thumb on the scale.” and “The second concern is the capacity of trolls, both of the profit-seeking and foreign government variety, to leverage Facebook’s fundamental engagement-seeking nature to push misinformation and division.” and “Facebook’s decision to not fact-check any posts or ads from politicians.”

What can we do against China (and their vision of the internet): “To fight the Internet’s impact, instead of seeking to understand it and guide the fundamental transformations that will surely follow, is a commitment by the West to lose the fight for the future.”

Title: Way Too Transparent, All The Money We Made

An interesting blog by two people who want to retire early. It’s about income, frugality, and why they want/can achieve it by 40.

Title: A New Crispr Technique Could Fix Almost All Genetic Diseases

That is quite the bold title. CHECK LATER, no access at the moment.

Title: Ayn Rand on Why Philosophy Matters

In the article, FS takes a look at why we would need philosophy in our lives. Here is a quote of Ayn Rand: ” [y]our only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown. “

So we need to think for ourselves, be reflective in our thinking. And work from first principles.

“What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an ‘open mind,’ but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically.”

Title: Why Costco is Cheaper than Amazon

Membership (that is the money maker), big stores (long walks, deal hunting), few products (quality, quantity)

Title: Onderzoekers willen mensen in een vegetatieve toestand met psychedelica behandelen (Dutch)

A percentage of people in a vegetative state does respond to stimuli (in their mind), what happens if we give them psilocybin. The idea would be that psychedelics increase the complexity (entropy) for the brain, and so maybe more consciousness.

“Scott and Carhart-Harris want to start slowly, with healthy people anesthetized from sleep, to see how psilocybin influences consciousness and brain complexity in those states. If the results are promising, and the study design is appropriate and safe enough, they will also apply it to people with a consciousness disorder.”

Title: PTSS-patiënten krijgen partydrug mdma als medicijn (Dutch)

First test of eight veterans in The Netherlands with MDMA. They say that 83% of PTSD patients recover (and if I remember correctly, that is with a group that was treatment-resistant).

Title: 16 Minutes on the News #11: CRISPR! Policy, Platform, Trials

Summary of the news (not research) on CRISPR. Nothing much new, but some regulation on CRISPR and ideas about how to use it for good/change. Some self-regulation also around not germline editing, yet!

Title: Human Eggs with the Goal of Altering Deaf Gene

Gene editing to solve real problems, in this case, deafness.

Title: New CRISPR genome editing system offers a wide range of versatility in human cells

““Prime editing” combines two key proteins and a new RNA to make targeted insertions, deletions, and all possible single-letter changes in the DNA of human cells.”

They combined CRISPR-Cas9 and reverse transcriptase to make better edits to our genome.

“…  and has the potential to correct up to 89 percent of known disease-causing genetic variations.”

The technique is being made available for free (for research).

Title: Earth’s rocks can absorb a shocking amount of carbon: here’s how

We are carbon (18%), trees are carbon (80%?), but what if most of the carbon is underground?

“life, in the form of microbes and bacteria, thrives miles beneath our feet in such abundance that its total carbon mass is up to 400 times greater than all 7.7 billion of the humans on the surface. That one of Earth’s largest ecosystems lies deep inside the planet is just one of the many discoveries from the decade-long Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) project that brought together 1,200 researchers from 55 nations to explore the internal workings of our planet.”

“In the next 20 to 40 years CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have to be eliminated and large amounts of CO2 already in the atmosphere need to be removed to prevent very dangerous levels of global warming.” – Or put more back in than we put out? Innovation?

“Experiments pumping carbon-rich fluids into the ophiolite rock formation show that carbonate minerals form very rapidly. That could potentially remove billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, though it would be a huge project and very different for Oman, which is dependent on its oil revenues, he says.”

“Diamonds also provided DCO researchers with evidence that the deep earth has more water—mostly locked up within the crystals of minerals as ions rather than liquid water—than all of the world’s oceans.”

Quite interesting, go read it all!

Title: Quantum computing’s ‘Hello World’ moment

A good analysis of what Google actually did, and much more elaborate than the 500-word articles all around. In short, as far as my understanding goes it was something that only a quantum computer could do. It was not too practical (just like Sputnik), but proves that quantum computers are here.

Title: The Origin of Consciousness in the Brain is About to be Tested

It could be interesting, but the research described isn’t done yet.

audio of article, just released 🙂

Title: How Close are we to Creating Artificial Intelligence / Creative blocks

I’ve been listening to an analysis of David Deutsch’s book The Beginning of Infinity. And it has sparked me to look up some of his articles online. So here is a short analysis of one of them.

The laws of physics say that AI should be possible (universality of computation), but why don’t we have it yet? (AI as in AGI, one that is creative). “But no brain on Earth is yet close to knowing what brains do in order to achieve any of that functionality. The enterprise of achieving it artificially — the field of ‘artificial general intelligence’ or AGI — has made no progress whatever during the entire six decades of its existence.”

“This entails that everything that the laws of physics require a physical object to do can, in principle, be emulated in arbitrarily fine detail by some program on a general-purpose computer, provided it is given enough time and memory.” As theorised by Babbage and Lovelace, and confirmed by Deutsch.

What is lacking in AI programs is ‘creativity’: the ability to produce new explanations. Deutsch argues (in the article and elsewhere) that all AI nowadays doesn’t produce new explanations. If you give it 5 ways of looking at Dark Matter, and it says/computes/confirms that one is correct, then it hasn’t added new explanations.

“What is needed is nothing less than a breakthrough in philosophy, a new epistemological theory that explains how brains create explanatory knowledge and hence defines, in principle, without ever running them as programs, which algorithms possess that functionality and which do not.” It makes me think of The Book of Why, alas one I haven’t read, but which is about the theory that we might be able to do/compute this – but focus on math, not philosophy).

Then he uses some of Popper’s work to argue that induction sucks (e.g. I saw a 1 at the beginning of the calendar each year, until it was the year 2000).

“Now, the truth is that knowledge consists of conjectured explanations — guesses about what really is (or really should be, or might be) out there in all those worlds.” (and that links to this article about the brain).

“Thinking consists of criticising and correcting partially true guesses with the intention of locating and eliminating the errors and misconceptions in them, not generating or justifying extrapolations from sense data.”

“Likewise, when a computer program beats a grandmaster at chess, the two are not using even remotely similar algorithms. The grandmaster can explain why it seemed worth sacrificing the knight for strategic advantage and can write an exciting book on the subject. The program can only prove that the sacrifice does not force a checkmate, and cannot write a book because it has no clue even what the objective of a chess game is. Programming AGI is not the same sort of problem as programming Jeopardy or chess.” AGI is built on a different frame than what is already being worked on.

“And here we have the problem of ambiguous terminology again: the term ‘consciousness’ has a huge range of meanings. At one end of the scale there is the philosophical problem of the nature of subjective sensations (‘qualia’), which is intimately connected with the problem of AGI. At the other, ‘consciousness’ is simply what we lose when we are put under general anaesthetic. Many animals certainly have that.”

Deutsch argues that even apes don’t have AGI (like we humans have) and that there the behaviourist arguments do stand/work. Just like with very smart AI (as commonly used) programs.

He also says the brain is no quantum computer and links to another paper if you were so inclined to learn more).

“The battle between good and evil ideas is as old as our species and will continue regardless of the hardware on which it is running.” So what can we do, stop the AGI development (or think of some guidelines as they are doing now)? Deutsch argues for not (but I can see that it could be good for the current AI landscape, so the one not related to AGI).

“We use, rather, the method of trial and the elimination of error.’ That is to say, conjecture and criticism. Learning must be something that newly created intelligences do, and control, for themselves.”

“I am convinced that the whole problem of developing AGIs is a matter of philosophy, not computer science or neurophysiology, and that the philosophical progress that is essential to their future integration is also a prerequisite for developing them in the first place.”

He ends the article with an optimistic note: “So in one respect I can agree with the AGI-is-imminent camp: it is plausible that just a single idea stands between us and the breakthrough. But it will have to be one of the best ideas ever.”

Title: How Constructor Theory Solves The Riddle of Life / Life without design

How could life be possible? That sounds like an ambitious question if I ever heard one. An article by Chiara Marletto (who works with David Deutsch (see above) on this). (the question is also being asked in GEB)

“The very problem Darwin’s theory addresses is ultimately rooted in physics: living things have certain properties that seem to set them apart from other aggregations of inert matter.” And they seem designed (but are of course not, just evolution through variation and natural selection).

“[L]iving things, again just like factories and robots, have the ability to perform physical transformations with a very high degree of precision, and to do so repeatedly and reliably.”

So life is good at faithful replication, and all other stuff (non-life) in the universe isn’t really good at it. “In other words, the laws of physics contain no built-in facility for accurate transformations; nor, in particular, for biological adaptations that can bring such transformations about.” But where is the jump from one to the other?

She explains that the laws of physics also provide no tailoring for life to exist.

“So, how can we explain physically how replication and self-reproduction are possible, given laws that contain no hidden designs, if the prevailing conception’s tools are inadequate? By applying a new fundamental theory of physics: constructor theory.”

“In constructor theory, physical laws are formulated only in terms of which tasks are possible (with arbitrarily high accuracy, reliability, and repeatability), and which are impossible, and why – as opposed to what happens, and what does not happen, given dynamical laws and initial conditions.”

“accurate self‑reproduction can occur only in two steps. Using letter-by-letter replication and error-correction, the parent cell makes a high-fidelity copy of the recipe to be inserted in the new cell; then it constructs the copying mechanism plus the rest of the cell afresh, following the recipe.”

“Constructor theory gives the ‘recipe’ an exact characterisation in fundamental physics. It is digitally coded information that can act as a constructor and has resiliency – the capacity, once it is instantiated in physical systems, to remain so instantiated. In constructor theory, that is called knowledge” Ok let me stop copy-pasting things here, see the article for more about constructor theory.

It seems logical to me, yet I do also feel that I don’t fully grasp the implications yet.

Title: What Does an Infamous Biohacker’s Death Mean for the Future of DIY Science?

I’m watching ‘Unnatural Selection’ (docu from Netflix) and this was a good companion piece.

September 2019 (Links)

Karl Popper on democracy for The Economist. About democracy and why he thinks the two-party system is the best (of the worst).

“As we have seen, even one small party may wield quite disproportionate power if it is in the position to decide which of the two big parties it will join to form a coalition government.”

What is a tech company? “to classify a company as a tech company because it utilizes software is just as unhelpful today as it would have been decades ago.”

And “It was this economic reality that gave rise to venture capital, which is about providing money ahead of a viable product for the chance at effectively infinite returns should the product and associated company be successful.”

WeWork and Peleton are maybe not really tech companies, as defined by the criteria in the article. Though Peleton can be seen as a disruptive technology (ala The Innovators Dilemma).

“Gene Editing Humans: It’s Not Just about Safety”

“There is a growing sense of inevitability that we will eventually do human germ-line modification and that our only obligation is to wait until it is safe.”

There is no hard line between curing/preventing diseases and enhancing our (future) children. We will be able to select the features of our kids, do we want to do that?

“Surely such control is a long way off, but we are now charting a path toward human enhancement that might ultimately reduce variation in the species or, over a long period of time, lead to subspeciation.”

“How is China able to provide enough food to feed its population of over 1 billion people? Do they import food or are they self-sustainable?”

The explanation shows that China is farming fish at enormous scale. Then it goes on to explain other ecosystems, of which many are sustainable/circular (even before it was cool, but now also incorporate solar panels). Greenhouses are also key to feeding more than a billion people, and IoT devices and smartphones are also used.

“We aren’t anywhere near running out of space for landfill.” and “Properly run landfill doesn’t hurt the environment in itself.”, “Even really well run landfills are a very cheap way to dispose of our waste.”, “The main downside of sending something to landfill is we miss the chance to benefit from recycling it — but recycling is only sometimes cheaper or better for the environment.”, “The problem of rubbish polluting the sea, rivers and land can be most cheaply addressed by improving rubbish collection and making sure everything gets to landfill.” “Incinerating waste and generating electricity from it is an alternative form of rubbish disposal that is good for the environment and resolves the problem permanently, but is expensive to operate up front.”, “Sending things to landfill isn’t as ‘unsustainable’ as you might think.”, “Reusable straws and bags are often more resource intensive than single-use ones.”, “If we don’t use materials in the first place, we save resources and don’t have to worry about any of the above.”

“We’ve Reached Peak Wellness. Most of It Is Nonsense.
Here’s what actually works”

“The problem is that so much of what’s sold in the name of modern-day wellness has little to no evidence of working.”

“Wellness—the kind that actually works—is simple: it’s about committing to basic practices, day in and day out, as individuals and communities.”

The advice that follows is, of course, things that work and probably don’t make much money (ala, that is why it isn’t promoted by Goop and the like).

Move your body, eat healthy (but don’t diet), let your emotions out (and seek help if needed), don’t be lonely, follow your interests and do deep-focused work.

Very interesting take (as always), on the Apple Keynote. Services for the win, locking in customers, making revenue each month instead of selling a phone once.

There is a plateau of people ageing (i.e. we aren’t getting much older), automation can still help, don’t fear the grey tsunami.

Amazon moving back to ‘Day One’, focus on growth and customers, over profit.

“It is also the opposite of harvesting: it is investing, and it seems more likely than not that Amazon’s upcoming results will look much more like the “Day One” company it was for years, with rapidly growing revenue and costs to match. “

A summary of: Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To by David Sinclair

” What if there was a single cause of aging upstream of all the hallmarks of aging? Sinclair believes that there is – loss of information. ” ” Rather, the loss is in the epigenome, or the expression of genetic code that instructs newly divided cells what they should be. “

Should we ask better questions? And what if we asked really simple questions? That could lead to new insights!

Interesting 🙂 Way outside the things I know, but of course a fun reference to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Key points from The Dead Hand by David E. Hoffman on the EA Forum.

” The basic idea: psychedelics reduce the weight of held beliefs and increase the weight of incoming sensory input, allowing the beliefs to be more readily changed by the new sensory information. “

” Psychedelics “heat up” the brain, increasing plasticity and weakening the influence of prior beliefs. As the psychedelic stops being active, the brain “cools” – the hierarchy re-forms, though perhaps in a different configuration than the pre-psychedelic configuration. “

“Carhart-Harris & Friston place the default mode network at top of the brain’s predictive hierarchy. The default mode network is the network of brain regions that’s most active when the brain isn’t engaged with any specific task. It also appears to be the seat of one’s sense of self. The default mode network is intensely relaxed by strong psychedelic experiences – this is subjectively felt as ego dissolution, and allows for the propagation of bottom-up sense data (which are also boosted by psychedelics).”

“Carhart-Harris & Friston identify two mechanisms by which psychedelics may relax the default mode network – activation of 5-HT2AR serotonin receptors (there are lots of these receptors in the default mode network), and disruption of α and βwave patterns, which seem to propagate top-down expectations through the brain (and are correlated with default mode network activity).”

Very interesting and a great resource (the original article and other links) to take a closer look at the science behind why psychedelics might work.

I got linked here from the excellent Future Crunch email list.

” The story we have been telling ourselves about our origins is wrong, and perpetuates the idea of inevitable social inequality. David Graeber and David Wengrow ask why the myth of ‘agricultural revolution’ remains so persistent, and argue that there is a whole lot more we can learn from our ancestors. “

“… and in almost no way does it resemble the conventional narrative. Our species did not, in fact, spend most of its history in tiny bands; agriculture did not mark an irreversible threshold in social evolution; the first cities were often robustly egalitarian. “

”  That is the real political message conveyed by endless invocations of an imaginary age of innocence, before the invention of inequality: that if we want to get rid of such problems entirely, we’d have to somehow get rid of 99.9% of the Earth’s population and go back to being tiny bands of foragers again. Otherwise, the best we can hope for is to adjust the size of the boot that will be stomping on our faces, forever, or perhaps to wrangle a bit more wiggle room in which some of us can at least temporarily duck out of its way. “

The authors try and argue that the history of men is not what we think it is. And that we don’t need to return to that mythical state to become whole again. If we better understand how it was, maybe we can find a better way forward.

” There is no reason to believe that small-scale groups are especially likely to be egalitarian, or that large ones must necessarily have kings, presidents, or bureaucracies. These are just prejudices stated as facts. ” (arguing again Jared Diamond and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among others).

” The really odd thing about these endless evocations of Rousseau’s innocent State of Nature, and the fall from grace, is that Rousseau himself never claimed the State of Nature really happened. It was all a thought-experiment. ” and “… Rousseau was really trying to explore what he considered the fundamental paradox of human politics: that our innate drive for freedom somehow leads us, time and again, on a ‘spontaneous march to inequality’. In Rousseau’s own words: ‘All ran headlong for their chains in the belief that they were securing their liberty; for although they had enough reason to see the advantages of political institutions, they did not have enough experience to foresee the dangers’. The imaginary State of Nature is just a way of illustrating the point.”

Then they argue why we didn’t live in the blissful egalitarian society of hunter-gatherers: ” To begin with, there is the undisputed existence of rich burials, extending back in time to the depths of the Ice Age. Some of these, such as the 25,000-year-old graves from Sungir, east of Moscow, have been known for many decades and are justly famous. “

They then use historical sites to show that also these were already present 10.000 years ago. They also argue that the growth of society/groups might have been cyclical. ” Why are these seasonal variations important? Because they reveal that from the very beginning, human beings were self-consciously experimenting with different social possibilities.  “

The humans of yesteryear experimented and were diverse, it wasn’t paradise (nor hell). A better question to ask (instead of ‘why is it so inequal’?) is to ask ‘why did we get so stuck?’

” The first bombshell on our list concerns the origins and spread of agriculture. There is no longer any support for the view that it marked a major transition in human societies. In those parts of the world where animals and plants were first domesticated, there actually was no discernible ‘switch’ from Palaeolithic Forager to Neolithic Farmer. The ‘transition’ from living mainly on wild resources to a life based on food production typically took something in the order of three thousand years. “

” Another bombshell: ‘civilization’ does not come as a package. The world’s first cities did not just emerge in a handful of locations, together with systems of centralised government and bureaucratic control.  ” and “… in the more established heartlands of urbanisation – Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, the Basin of Mexico – there is mounting evidence that the first cities were organised on self-consciously egalitarian lines, municipal councils retaining significant autonomy from central government. “

” The pieces are all there to create an entirely different world history. For the most part, we’re just too blinded by our prejudices to see the implications. For instance, almost everyone nowadays insists that participatory democracy, or social equality, can work in a small community or activist group, but cannot possibly ‘scale up’ to anything like a city, a region, or a nation-state. But the evidence before our eyes, if we choose to look at it, suggests the opposite. Egalitarian cities, even regional confederacies, are historically quite commonplace. Egalitarian families and households are not. “

An overview of what is happening at Wageningen University (in The Netherlands) and surrounding it. How we can feed the world (through new technologies).

” With the right placement and the right light recipes, Marcelis and his team think that their goal of a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse energy costs is within reach. Or, as the Wageningen motto goes: “two times more with two times less”. “

” According to Van Huis, the new age of entomophagy is beginning. Researchers at WUR are looking to capitalise on bugs’ ability to act as both livestock and miniature waste treatment plants. Insects reared on organic waste serve as both food production and waste reduction – a triumph in circular agriculture, where yield and use of resources are optimised for minimal impact on the environment. “We are at the beginning of an exponential growth,” Van Huis says. “

”  but this meat is not made up of cow. It’s a mixture of wheat gluten, soy concentrate, colorants and water. “For us, as food engineers,” Van der Goot explains, “we would like to make a product that resembles meat as much as possible.” “

” Both the energy input and the cost of investment for shear cell are lower than those of any available extrusion technology: respectively, 25-40 per cent less, and 40-60 per cent less. “

” In the near future, Van der Goot believes that every restaurant, grocery store and kitchen can be equipped with a fake-meat machine. “

” Food fraud, like the horsemeat-in-beef scandal of 2013 scandal, costs up to $40 billion (£32 billion) a year – but WUR uses a food product’s biological fingerprint to determine its origin and authenticity. “

” ”What I like the most about micro-algae is that it’s such a simple process that can have a very high impact on our society,” says Maria Barbosa, the director of AlgaePARC, a 15-year research programme at WUR looking to create low-cost, low-energy micro-algae production. “

“… vanilla orchid far above his head. These are part of the greenhouse’s “Nethervanilla” crop: proof that growing and harvesting it can be achieved in Dutch greenhouses. “

Very interesting read and great to know what innovations are happening there.

Timeline of the history of psychedelics. How they were used etc.

Again via Future Crunch.

” Just as much of the world has come to see rapid population growth as normal and expected, the trends are shifting again, this time into reverse. Most parts of the world are witnessing sharp and sudden contractions in either birthrates or absolute population.”

” Capitalism as a system is particularly vulnerable to a world of less population expansion; a significant portion of the economic growth that has driven capitalism over the past several centuries may have been simply a derivative of more people and younger people consuming more stuff. “

” “The UN is employing a faulty model based on assumptions that worked in the past but that may not apply in the future.” ” (there will be less people, because faster than expected, we’re having fewer kids)

” A world of zero to negative population growth is likely to be a world of zero to negative economic growth, because fewer and older people consume less.  ” I’m not sure about this, Japan (which they use as an example a lot) didn’t stop running when people got old, and we will keep inventing new things and ways to consume.

Title: Neither, and New: Lessons from Uber and Vision Fund

” Vision Fund is not a venture capital firm, nor is it a public market-focused hedge fund: it is neither, and new, but it very much remains to be seen if “new” is valuable. “

” This is also good news for public market investors: despite all of the press about Uber and WeWork, more companies are up post-IPO than down — and the gains are much larger in percentage terms than are the losses. The tech company formula still works. “

Biotech will present many possibilities. From getting meat and cheese without the animals, to wood without the tree and fuel without fossils.

How do we reverse ageing? Young blood looked promising, in practice not so much. But the underlying science did, so we can do it without turning into vampires.

” As people age, tgf-beta accretes in the blood and this leads to problems such as inflammation or fibrosis. ” … ” Her team gave ageing mice a cocktail of oxytocin, a hormone, and alk5 inhibitor, an enzyme. “

August 2019 (Links)

“Go back far enough in time, before animals and plants and even bacteria existed, and you’d find that the precursor of all life—what scientists call a “protocell”—likely had this same trinity of parts: RNA and proteins, in a membrane.”

But how the membranes could form in a hostile environment was unclear. “They’ve shown that the spheres can withstand both salt and magnesium ions, as long as they’re in the presence of amino acids—the simple molecules that are the building blocks of proteins. “

“It seemed that people were just waving their hands and attributing this crucial convergence to some random event. Black, instead, suggested that the membranes themselves were key. If fatty acids can stick to the constituents of both proteins and RNA, they could have gathered these building blocks together as they themselves assembled. “

“The robot revolution we are in the midst of is actually way more interesting. Goldberg calls it the multiplicity. “Multiplicity is not science fiction,” he says. “It’s something that’s happening right now, and it’s the idea of humans and machines working together.” So welcome to the future, where robots do things like gently hand us screwdrivers instead of stabbing us with them. “

I like the argument in this article a lot, we use machines and work together with them, they are not (in all aspects but very limited use, like Go or chess) usurping/supplanting us.

“Very few robots out there are meant to actually replace human labor, and there’s little research to suggest that the jobless future is nigh.”

Zebrafish as a research animal (vs mouse and the like). They are better because they are externally laid and fertilized (easy manipulation), and transparent. “84 percent of genes known to be associated with human disease have a counterpart in zebrafish.”

“… the set of ideas now called ‘Ergodicity Economics’ is overturning a fundamental concept at the heart of economics, with radical implications for the way we approach uncertainty and cooperation. The economics group at LML is attempting to redevelop economic theory from scratch, starting with the axiom that individuals optimise what happens to them over time, not what happens to them on average in a collection of parallel worlds.”

Talking about expected utility theory: “But there is one odd feature in this framework of expectations – it essentially eliminates time.” “But that’s a mistake. This inspired LML efforts to rewrite the foundations of economic theory, avoiding the lure of averaging over possible outcomes, and instead averaging over outcomes in time, with one thing happening after another, as in the real world.”

A very long (and good) essay on ‘The Refragmentation’. Some notes/quotes:

  • “One advantage of being old is that you can see change happen in your lifetime. A lot of the change I’ve seen is fragmentation. “
  • “In the middle of the century our two big forces intersect, in the form of the GI Bill, which sent 2.2 million World War II veterans to college. Few thought of it in these terms, but the result of making college the canonical path for the ambitious was a world in which it was socially acceptable to work for Henry Ford, but not to be Henry Ford. “
  • “In the early 20th century, big companies were synonymous with efficiency. In the late 20th century they were synonymous with inefficiency. “
  • “It wasn’t just within existing industries that change occurred. The industries themselves changed. It became possible to make lots of new things, and sometimes the existing companies weren’t the ones who did it best. “
  • “The word used for this process was misleadingly narrow: deregulation. What was really happening was de-oligopolization. It happened to one industry after another. Two of the most visible to consumers were air travel and long-distance phone service, which both became dramatically cheaper after deregulation. “
  • “Ambitious people started to think of a career less as climbing a single ladder than as a series of jobs that might be at different companies.” (see The Alliance)
  • “Nothing is forever, but the tendency toward fragmentation should be more forever than most things, precisely because it’s not due to any particular cause. It’s simply a reversion to the mean. When Rockefeller said individualism was gone, he was right for a hundred years. It’s back now, and that’s likely to be true for longer. “

“Hercules (beagle with gene edit) is far from alone, as China is seeing an explosion in CRISPR-based animal studies and embracing the gene-editing technology with unrivalled zest and zeal—so much so that China could soon outpace the US in CRISPR-related research papers and patents across fields such as medical research, agriculture, and industrial applications. “

“Blobology: The electron microscope’s resolution has improved from showing shapeless blobs to visualising molecules at atomic resolution “

“[T]hat everything you do online is logged in obscene detail, that you have no privacy. And yet, even expecting this, I was bowled over by the scale and detail of the tracking; even for short stints on the web, when I logged into Invasive Firefox just to check facts and catch up on the news, the amount of information collected about my endeavors was staggering.”

In the article, the writer of Stratechery takes a closer look at tracking pixels and sees that not all are created equal/some are actually useful.

Wait But Why is back. Now with a series of articles about, uhh, everything. About human nature, relationships, and more. This is Part 1: The Power Games.

“Animals are just a hack these outlier genes came up with—temporary containers designed to carry the genes and help them stay immortal.”

“Genes are like gravity—they don’t care. They want to stay immortal, and they’ll pursue that goal as relentlessly as gravity fuses atoms inside stars.”

“Not only could this mind within a mind think its own thoughts, it could actually overrule the will of the genes, override the software’s commands, and drive human behavior.”

“What if aging weren’t inevitable, but a curable disease?”

Article about the view (and a bit of science) of seeing ageing as a disease and treating it that way. Ageing as underlying cause and something we can target.

“Another common objection to the aging-as-a-disease hypothesis is that labeling old people as diseased will add to the stigma they already face. “