Epistemic status: Speculation. Grasping at a distinction that might or might not be useful. Playing around with dichotomy to see what happens.
The venture capitalist David Rose once told a group of students (I was there: I don’t think the speech was published) to think about things that “will have to happen” as technology develops, and to create businesses that will enable those things.
For example: If the Internet allows a store to have a near-infinite selection, someone will have to found Amazon.
I recently realized that Rose’s way of thinking parallels the way philosopher Nick Bostrom thinks about the future. As an expert on global catastrophic risk, he asks people to figure out which things will have to not happen in order for humanity to develop, and to create organizations that will prevent those things from happening.
For example: If nuclear war would wipe out civilization, someone (or many someones) will have to ensure that no two nuclear-armed groups ever engage in all-out war.
If you were to divide people into two groups — the followers of David Rose, and those of Nick Bostrom — you’d get what I call “Roseites” and “Bostromites”.
Roseites try to make new things exist, to grow the economy, and to enhance civilization.
Bostromites try to study the impact of new things, to prevent the economy’s collapse, and to preserve civilization.
I use Genius to add comments and context to the articles I read. This is a monthly round-up of articles I did the most Genius-ing on. To see all my annotations, follow me on Genius!
If you like to think while you read, you should get an account and add the Chrome extension. The Internet needs thoughtful people like you!
(Also, without the extension, you may not see the annotations on these articles.)
Articles of Note
80 years ago, Harvard had a “Jewish quota”. They used rhetoric about “character” to limit the number of Jews they admitted, in favor of students who weren’t as book-smart but fit the Harvard ideal. Today, the same thing is happening to Asians, for the same reasons.
Controlling for other variables […] Asians need SAT scores 140 points higher than whites, 270 points higher than Hispanics, and an incredible 450 points higher than blacks (out of 1,600 points) to get into these schools.
If you want to see some ridiculously offensive statements from MIT’s Dean of Admissions, this is the article for you!
I think that the year’s most amazing invention is Genius.it.
Right now — right this moment — you can turn any web page into a cross between a Kindle book and a page of lyrics on Rap Genius. Other people can read your annotations alongside the article, and add their own comments.
I plan to use this invention a lot. It’s the best way to deal with the fact that someone is always wrong on the internet.
Below is the first article I’ve “annotated” in this way. Read, upvote, and comment!
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Ezra Klein and Phil Libin are both remarkably smart people. But I think that they make some mistakes in their depiction of how experts on artificial intelligence think about the risk posed by this powerful technology.
On the advice of Bing Gordon, I recently spent an afternoon reading through the last 17 years’ worth of Amazon shareholder letters, written by the somewhat strange and mostly wonderful Jeff Bezos. This was an interesting experience; if you like entrepreneurship, or business in general, I highly recommend it!
Here are some of my favorite excerpts.
“We brought [customers] much more selection than was possible in a physical store (our store would now occupy 6 football fields).”
“I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning terrified. Not of our competition, but of our customers.”
I just found another essay that echoes An Ode to Phones. The author, Glenn Gillen, owned many possessions (CDs, DVDs, etc.), but moved his life to the cloud as the necessary tools became available.
The most accessible section of the essay:
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, while talking to a friend about the risk of crime and property theft in San Francisco, that I appreciated the magnitude of what had happened.
10 years ago, someone breaking into my house didn’t just carry a huge emotional impact, but significant upfront and ongoing financial ones too. TVs, home theatre systems, computers. Thousands of dollars of equipment and potentially months of effort to acquire replacements and set everything up again. Not to mention the sentimental things like photos that could never be replaced. But today the financial impact is $999 to replace a Macbook Air and 30mins-60mins to set it up. All the “irreplaceable” music, photos, and software is back exactly as it was in the time it takes to eat lunch.
Taking something that seemed to have a high negative impact, and making it near negligible, has been liberating. And so I’m constantly looking at how to take it further.
Gillen’s article made me think about things that are harder to back up than data. Especially emotional states. Continue reading
Something I’m glad I did: Sitting down with a large pad of paper, thinking about all the things that ought to exist, and writing them out as ideas for startups.
Time: 26 minutes for brainstorming (an hour is a long time) plus 90 minutes of research and blog-writing.
At the end of this, I had something like two dozen ideas, most of which were terrible. But a few were promising, and overall, it was a pretty good use of time. If there are things about the world you wish were different, you might enjoy doing the same.
The biggest takeaways from the experiment:
- Almost everything that you can imagine existing with current technology already exists, though it may not have been implemented very well.
- Following from (1): If you wish something existed, Google it. It probably does. (Example: Free wake-up calls from Wakerupper, which may replace my alarm clock.)
Something else that occurred to me:
Many problems in life can be solved if one tries enough new things. The greater challenge seems to be that many people don’t like trying new things. A great meta-invention would be an addictive app that rewards people for trying new things—but how would you convince people who don’t try new things to try it in the first place?
Most of the ideas are listed below. Steal them if you want to.
After my old phone failed for no apparent reason, I feared that I’d lost quite a lot of data, and that it would take weeks to get my life back in working order.
Half an hour after I entered the store where I buy phones, I walked out with a new device containing all the same data as my old device.
It hit me then that, since the advent of the Internet, and later cloud computing, the miracle of distributed data has saved humans tens of billions of hours in time that otherwise would have been spent recreating data or otherwise making up for its disappearance.