I read Thiel’s Zero to One (2014) in May, but forgot to mention it in the May books post. I enjoyed it very much. His key argument is that progress comes from monopolies, not from strong competition, so we should encourage certain kinds of monopolies. I generally agree. I also agree with Thiel that technological progress has slowed since the 70s, with the (lone?) exception of IT.
The Info Mesa (2003), by Ed Regis, is fine but less interesting than Great Mambo Chicken (which I’m currently reading) and Nano (which I finished last month).
The Atomic Bazaar (2003), by William Langewiesche, tells the story of nuclear trafficking and the rise of poor countries with nuclear weapons programs, and especially the activities of Abdul Qadeer Khan. It was pretty good, though I wish it had done a better job of explaining the limits, opportunities, and incentives at play in the nuclear arms trade.
Age of Ambition (2014), by Evan Osnos, is a fantastically rich portrait of modern China. Highly recommended.
Human Accomplishment (2003), by Charles Murray, is a fine specimen of quantitative historical analysis. The final chapters are less persuasive than the rest of the book, but despite this terms like magisterial and tour de force come to mind. Murray does an excellent job walking the reader through his methodology, its pros and cons, the reasons for it, and the conclusions that can and can’t be drawn from it. You’ll probably like this if you enjoyed Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature.
Superintelligence (2014), by Nick Bostrom, is a fantastic summary of the last ~15 years of strategic thinking about machine superintelligence from (largely) FHI and MIRI, the two institutes focused most directly on the issue. If you want to get a sense of what’s been learned during that time, first read Bostrom’s 1997 paper on superintelligence (and other topics), and then read his new book. It comes out in the UK on July 3rd and in the USA on September 3rd. Highly recommended.
The Honest Truth about Dishonesty (2013), by Dan Ariely, is as fun and practical as the other Ariely books. Recommended.
- Beckstead, Will we eventually be able to colonize other stars?
- GiveWell conversation with Tom Dietterich about long-term AI safety.
- Two professional soccer players vs. 55 children (video).
- Sean Carroll: Physicists should stop saying silly things about philosophy.
- BPS Research Digest: How can we increase altruism towards future generations?
- Reminder: Quantum computers still aren’t faster than regular old computers.
- In Science: the existence of the American continents may have been deduced by a Medieval scholar from Central Asia.
- Ben Kuhn: A guide to giving away money.
- Interview with Gwern Branwen on intelligence amplification.
- Steven Hawking on Last Week Tonight talking about intelligence explosion and other topics (very funny).
- “Ask audiences what they want, and they’ll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they’ll mostly eat candy.”
- Huh. So it turns out that Elon Musk is pretty concerned about AGI risk.
- Why Netflix never implemented the algorithm that won the Netflix $1 Million Challenge.
- A small study of which presentations of EA are most effective.
- “The number of new drugs approved per billion US dollars spent on R&D has halved roughly every 9 years since 1950… “
- How Google converted language translation into a problem of vector space mathematics.
- Philosopher Peter Unger has less respect for philosophy than I do.
- Karnofsky, Sequence Thinking vs. Cluster Thinking and Modeling Extreme Model Uncertainty and a worked example.
- Robin Hanson argues for variable vigilance, Scott Alexander argues for constant vigilance.
- Pinker, Writing in the 21st Century.
- Timelapse video of a stellar explosion, recorded by Hubble over 4 years.
- Richardson & Robins, “A unification of the counterfactual and graphical approaches to causality.”
- A computer program has passed (an easy version of) the Turing test. It doesn’t mean much.
- My favorite net neutrality rant yet (John Oliver).
- Do rationalists exist?
- Stephen Deangelis at Wired: “Machine Learning: Bane or Blessing for Mankind?”
- Dominic Cummings, policy advisor to the UK education secretary, releases a somewhat amazing 237-page document on education priorities.
- MacKenzie, “Computer-related accidental death: an empirical exploration” (1994).
- Wikipedia’s Outline of Science.
- New Yudkowsky FAI report: “Distributions allowing tiling of staged subjective EU maximizers.”
- Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh (FHI & CSER) gave a 13-minute introduction to existential risk.
- The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2014 report provides a snapshot of what a certain set of thought leaders think is worth worrying about.
- Another snapshot comes from the responses to Edge.org’s 2013 annual question.
- The Onion: World’s Supercomputers Release Study Confirming They Are Not Powerful Enough.
- Frustrated scholar creates new way to fund, publish and peer-review academic work. Dogecoin accepted.
- James Hamblin in The Atlantic: But what would the end of humanity mean for me?
- Nick Beckstead’s suggestions for effective altruism research topics.
- Schwitzgebel, A Theory of Jerks.
- A Type House Divided: inside the split of the Hoefler/Frere-Jones typography team.
- UsefulScience.org: Life-relevant scientific results explained in one sentence, in many categories, with links to the original publication and also news coverage. (This link, like many of my links, is borrowed from Rockstar Research Magazine.)
- MIRI wants to fund your independently-organized Friendly AI workshop.
- New DoD report on their plans for autonomous robots, 2013-2038.
- Watch a computer try to learn how to walk (video).
- What a Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC) might have been like in Medieval times.
- Eliezer Yudkowsky takes another shot (Nov. 2013) at explaining what he was trying to get across in his metaethics sequence.
- The ontological argument for God’s existence, formalized and proved with PVS.
- Ants acting as both a solid and a liquid (video).
- Wikiquote: incorrect predictions.
- Average length of PhD dissertations by major.
Nano (1996), by Ed Regis, tells the story of nanotechnology up to 1995, and serves as a cautionary tale for others trying to promote the development of a novel science from outside the establishment. Recommended.
The Visioneers (2012), by W. Patrick McCray, tells the story of both Gerard O’Neill — who advocated space colonization in the 1970s — and Eric Drexler, pioneer of nanotechnology. It’s less detailed than Nano, but also recommended.
Soldiers of Reason (2009), by Alex Abella, is a history of RAND Corporation. Most of it is pretty interesting, especially if you happen to run a nonprofit research institute, though I disagree with the author about the purpose and value of rational choice theory.
David and Goliath (2013), by Malcolm Gladwell, includes some great stories as usual but is also Gladwell’s most annoying, disingenuous book yet.
Think Like a Freak (2014), by Levitt & Dubner, also includes some great stories, and is less annoying than David and Goliath, but is basically a repackaging of posts from their blog.
A Troublesome Inheritance (2014), by Nicholas Wade, is about race, genes, and IQ, a touchy subject!
The Knowledge (2014), by Lewis Dartnell, is about what we’d need to know, and what knowledge we’d need to preserve, to reboot human civilization as quickly as possible after some kind of apocalypse. I wish there was more available on this subject. Recommended.
The Up Side of Down (2014), by Megan McArdle, is about how failing well is the key to success. I’ll echo Robin Hanson: “Overall I found it very hard to disagree with anything that McArdle said in her book. If you know me, that is quite some praise.”
- MIRI’s first technical report on the value-loading problem in FAI in a long time.
- Wilson Center & MIT, “Creating a Research Agenda for the Ecological Implications of Synthetic Biology.”
- Wars & Metternich argue in Foreign Policy that “predicting the future is easier than it looks.”
- GiveWell lays out their reasoning on why some U.S. policy areas look more promising for philanthropic intervention than others.
- More evidence that disagreement is less resolvable when people are thinking about their positions in far mode.
- On the unusual effectiveness of logic in computer science.
- Mandiant’s 2014 cybsecurity trends report.
Immediately before launching this new site I was posting regular assorted links to Facebook. I’ve collected those links below.
May 31st links
- Scott Aaronson’s reply to Giulio Tononi’s reply to Scott Aaronson on the integrated information theory of consciousness.
- Equity market guru accuracy ratings, based on 6500+ forecasts from 68 gurus.
- Machines vs. lawyers.
- Robin Goldstein pranks Wine Spectator with a fake restaurant.
- Steven Pinker’s next book is available for pre-order.
May 29th links
- FLI’s inaugural talks and panel: “The future of technology, benefits and risks” (video).
- How much do Y Combinator founders earn?
- Megaprojects (> $1B budget) almost never finish on time, on budget, and with the promised benefits.
- Google has a working prototype of a fully self-driving car with no steering wheel (video).
- SIGGRAPH 2014 technical papers preview (video).
May 27th links
- Sandberg, “Smarter policymaking through improved collective cognition.”
- Johann Schumann on high-assurance systems.
- “Communicating values to autonomous agents.”
- Robotic arm catches everything tossed in its direction (video).