February 2020

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).