Roam Notes on “Patrick Collison in conversation with Tyler Cowen | Full Q&A | Oxford Union Web Series”

  • Author:: [[Tyler Cowen]] and [[Patrick Collison]]
  • Source:: link
  • Recommended By:: [[Tyler Cowen]]
  • Tags:: #technology #progress
  • Roam Notes URL:: link
  • Anki Tag::
  • Anki Deck Link::
  • {{[video]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfdRF_krbp8}}
  • (0:29) [[Tyler Cowen]]: As the next big biomedical technology breakthroughs come, are you concerned that increased life expectancy would result in calcification of institutions by entrenching incumbents?
    • [[Patrick Collison]]: It’s a problem to be solved, but not convincing because proposing the inverse "can we ensure everyone dies at age 80?" seems to clearly be "no".
  • (1:35) [[Tyler Cowen]]: To what extent do you think the attraction of progress is "feel / aesthetics" or giving people what they want?
    • PC: Correlation between happiness and GDP is about .78. So progress really does drive satisfaction. That suggests it’s more about the outcome rather than the process, but my intuition is that it’s the process of generating progress itself that is the relevant question.
  • 3:43 [[Tyler Cowen]]: You’ve written both optimistic and pessimistic visions for our path forward with technology. What is your underlying model?
  • (5:50) [[Tyler Cowen]]: The [[mRNA vaccines]] work, and there was at least 25 years where there was no marketplace adoption. All the sudden paradise rains down during [[COVID-19]] – maybe this is how progress works and we shouldn’t be so pessimistic?
    • [[Patrick Collison]]: You could argue the opposite – the fact that we needed a pandemic to finally get to commercialization is an indicator of systemic problems. The fact they were so ready to deploy, indicates the extent of the problem.
  • (7:43) [[Tyler Cowen]]: What is the most misleading statistic and what is the most underrated statistic for measuring progress?
    • [[Patrick Collison]]: Self-reported happiness is important but a lot of the comparisons you want to perform with it are fraught or misleading. Intertemporal comparisons lead to strange conclusions.
    • (10:15) [[Tyler Cowen]]: part of me thinks total [[population]] may be the ultimate measure of progress, which would not be good for [[Japan]]. Everyone admires small countries that are well run, but consider [[Brazil]] – obviously lots of problems, not as well run, but it’s produced many people.
  • (12:30) [[Patrick Collison]]: Culture is very important for determining progress. If you look at [[the Scottish Enlightenment]], they were very obsessed with things like [[culture]], [[norms]], and mindset, which seems old-fashioned now.
  • (13:30) [[Patrick Collison]]: [[Africa]] has a promising future because of the internet: the people there are suddenly able to compete there on the same level as other places in the world. They also have a significantly growing and young population.
    • [[Tyler Cowen]]: Another advantage – since there are many more countries there, they can run more experiments.
    • [[Patrick Collison]]: They understand the importance or progress better than many westerners, who tend to now have a complacent, postmodern view that it’s not that important.
  • (20:40) [[Patrick Collison]]: [[Ireland]] has a bit of an inferiority complex, so it doesn’t view itself as the best at everything, but this kind of attitude can help stoke progress.
  • (22:04) [[Patrick Collison]]: [[Mathematica]] is one of the most underrated achievements of our age. #programming
    • It’s been getting steadily better over multiple decades. Programming languages don’t innovate much after they’re released, partially because they’re [[open source software]] which can make it harder to make significant changes. Mathematica shows that a multi-decadal software project is totally sensible – it’s improving at a faster rate now than it ever has.
    • Mathematica is like [[Stripe]] in that they are both sort of programming languages – one for computing, one for financial infrastructure. Developer productivity is the primary focus for both. [[Stephen Wolfram]] is also admirable and ambitious. He doesn’t believe in libraries – he believes that your programming language should just do all the things! It’s like he’s building the Library of Alexandria in the programming language.
  • (26:00) [[Tyler Cowen]]: You showed an early interest in meta-programming languages such as [[Lisp]]. Why, and what does that show about your thought generally? #programming #[[functional programming]]
    • [[Patrick Collison]]: Two things:
      • In computing we’re stuck in these local maxima and there’s an entrenched status quo. The cost is probably much greater than people realize. Off the beaten path projects like Lisp and Mathematica helped to understand the design space and what was possible. #learning
      • Lisp is a programming language for individuals. It takes seriously the question "how do you make a single individual as enabled and productive as possible?" E.g. "reader macros" where you define on the fly the actual syntax of the language. To other programmers this is a disaster – how do you have a large project where you get a bunch of people to work on random syntax you defined? [[Stripe]] takes this individual view: how can we make it possible for one person to do build a business with financial payments in one evening?
  • (29:20) [[Tyler Cowen]]: Why is Stripe a [[writing]] company? And how does this spring from your love of [[Lisp]] and [[Mathematica]]?
    • [[Patrick Collison]]: If you take ideas seriously, you have to become a writing culture. You want to find the best solution, not something that "just works". We’re still debating fundamental questions at Stripe that have been around for years. To make progress on that, you have to be a writing culture. If you don’t write ideas down extensively or specifically, it’s hard to say that they’re wrong and you can’t make progress.
  • (42:16) [[Patrick Collison]] the prevalence of [[open office plans]] has a lot to do being able to shuffle around people easily in a high growth company. Three unique strategies of [[Stripe]] in terms of creating an optimal [[work environment]]:
    • Move teams quickly (every 3-6 months switch to a new location)
    • Move unrelated teams close together (for serendipity, creating a warm atmosphere)
    • Making the entire physical space as connected as possible (e.g. central stairwells to get as much of serendipitous interaction as possible).
  • (48:45) [[Patrick Collison]]: It’s actually hard to get funding at top universities with large endowments. A lot of the best [[Fast Grants]] applications were actually from people from top universities, so there are potentially high returns to improving funding for the best researchers. #[[research funding]]
  • (52:20) [[Tyler Cowen]] How should we better run funding institutions, and why is there so much [[conformism]] in universities / nonprofit / philanthropy, and how does all that tie together? #[[research funding]]
    • [[Patrick Collison]]: for science institutions, more structural diversity. In terms of which work is being funded, what the field delineations are, different models for how careers work or where work is done. Find all of the axes where you could try new and different things. A lot of people don’t realize how monochromatic it is – so much is downstream of institutions like [[NIH]] – researchers understand how stifling this is, but don’t speak out about it because they rely on the funding.

Roam Notes and Anki Deck on “Notes on Technology in the 2020s” by Eli Dourado

  • Title:: Notes on Technology in the 2020s
  • Author:: [[Eli Dourado]]
  • Recommended By:: [[Patrick Collison]] on Twitter https://twitter.com/patrickc/status/1345405936240742400
  • Reading Status:: #complete
  • Review Status:: #[[third pass]]
  • Tags:: #articles #technology #progress #innovation
  • URL:: https://elidourado.com/blog/notes-on-technology-2020s/
  • Source:: #instapaper
  • Anki Tag:: dourado_2020_tech
  • Anki Deck Link:: link
  • Notes

    • Overview
      • [[Eli Dourado]] thinks through how various promising technologies could evolve over the next decade. (View Highlight)
    • End of [[the great stagnation]]?
      • Metric marking the end of [[the great stagnation]] – sustained growth in utilization-adjusted [[total factor productivity]] of 2 percent per year. It was 2.1 percent over 1947-1972, only .17 percent since 2005. (Note: utilization-adjusted version is important since it corrects for the business cycle.) (View Highlight) #Ankified
      • Scientific breakthroughs alone are not enough to end the Great Stagnation. "TFP only budges when new technologies are adopted at scale, and generally this means products, not just science…This means building businesses, surmounting regulatory obstacles, and scaling production. (View Highlight) #commercialization #Ankified
    • [[Biotech]] and [[health]] (View Highlight)
      • [[mRNA vaccines]] provides the ability to encode and deploy arbitrary mRNA in our bodies—"it allows us to essentially program our cells to make whatever proteins we want". For [[COVID-19]], the vaccine instructs our cells to make the spike protein (View Highlight). mRNA technology can be deployed against non-viruses, like [[cancer]] (e.g. [[BioNTech]] treatment). (View Highlight) #[[Moderna]]
      • [[CRISPR]] is a technique for editing [[DNA]] discovered in 2012, but haven’t made a meaningful economic contribution yet—no treatment using CRISPR has been approved outside of [[clinical trials]]. (View Highlight) #Ankified
      • "[[DeepMind]] [[protein-folding]] breakthrough signals a promising decade for the science of [[proteomics]]. Most directly, being able to predict protein shapes will enable us to discover drugs more rapidly." But this is still a way off due to drug trials taking a long time. (View Highlight).
      • [[life extension]]: [[Conboy Lab at Berkeley]] helped prove that replacing plasma rejuvinates germ layer tissues and improves cognition by reducing neuroinflammation. (View Highlight) This is a product that could actually come to market – [[therapeutic plasma exchange]] is [[FDA]]-approved for other conditions (not aging), but could be provided off-label, and it’s cheap – "An automated [[plasmapheresis machine]]—which lets you do treatment after treatment—can be bought online for under $3,000". (View Highlight)
        • Another related product is [[aging clocks]] to know how biologically old you are – these are available today. (View Highlight)
        • [[metformin]] is something to look into if you are metabolically unhealthy. (View Highlight)
      • [[health sensors]] on [[wearables]] like Apple Watch are becoming better and more prevalent every year. (View Highlight)
      • "Let’s salute and cheer for the discoveries, but spare many thoughts for the entrepreneurs trying to bring treatments to market." (View Highlight) #commercialization
    • [[Energy]]
      • [[wind power]] and [[solar power]]: costs of these have decreased significantly over the 2010s but deployment is only 9% of utility-scale electricity generation in the US as of 2019. Going forward, cost reductions will stall, but deployment will increase. (View Highlight) #Ankified
        • Intermittency is a challenge. To reach a grid powered entirely by today’s renewables, we would need storage at a price of $20 per kWh (with caveats). To power the grid today entirely with renewables, would need price to be about $20 per kWh, while current prices are in the $500-$600 per kWh range. Increased demand could make price reductions in the future challenging. (View Highlight)
      • [[nuclear power]] or [[geothermal power]] seem to be required for scalable zero-carbon baseload energy.
        • [[nuclear power]] is challenging due to high costs
        • [[geothermal power]] is the most plausible this decade. This is apparently an area ripe for innovation: "The startups I have spoken to think with today’s technology they can crack 3.5¢/kWh without being confined to volcanic regions." Possibly 1¢/kWh by the 2050s, making it difficult for [[nuclear power]] to compete (View Highlight) #Ankified
      • [[sustainable alternative fuels (SAF)]] will be big in 2020s. Airlines can’t electrify since batteries can’t match fossil fuel energy density, which means airlines must go with [[hydrogen fuel]] or SAF. Dourado is betting on SAF over Hydrogen (esp. fuel made from CO2 from the atmosphere), since they are more energy dense. (View Highlight) #Ankified
    • [[transportation]]
      • [[electric cars]] – they’re better than regular cars due to lower fuel costs, lower maintenance costs (fewer moving parts), faster acceleration, higher low-end torque. (View Highlight) One exception is trucking, which may have to shift to hydrogen. This shift will significantly reduce air pollution from unregulated ultrafine particles; resulting in fewer premature birth, asthma, cancer, and mystery illness.
      • [[autonomous vehicles]] could happen at scale in 2020, and autonomy is inevitable eventually with constantly improving sensors and machine learning algorithms. (View Highlight)
      • [[supersonic aircraft]] will have a big impact on global business when it comes, but this is likely not in the 2020s. (View Highlight) [[urban air mobility]] may also happen (e.g. Joby, Wisk).
      • [[drone delivery]] is likely in the 2020s, with the [[FAA]] about to issue a rule expanding operations at night and flights over crowds. (View Highlight)
      • [[tunnels]] are a possible route in countries like the US where it is extremely difficult to build above-ground due to "promiscuous distribution of the veto power" (View Highlight). [[The Boring Company]] has a couple promising projects here, and Dourado is optimistic about the impact on commerce since time and hassle cost of travel is a key input to the [[gravity model of trade]].
    • [[space]]
      • [[SpaceX]] seems poised to dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration with [[Starship (SpaceX)]]. The Space Shuttle was about $65,000/kg to low earth orbit, [[Falcon 9 (SpaceX)]] is only $2,600/kg, and reasonable estimates suggest Starship could reach $10/kg. (View Highlight) #Ankified
      • Some consequences: commerce between Earth and space expands (e.g. manufacturing materials that can only be made in space, [[Starlink (SpaceX)]]), and less engineering required on payloads due to the consequences of losing them being lower. #[[gravity model of trade]] (View Highlight)
    • [[information technology]]
      • "[[custom silicon]] is going to be huge", due to incredible performance gains. Another name for this is [[system on a chip (SoC)]]. [[Apple M1]] is a notable example. "Almost all computer hardware—anything that has any scale to it—will move in this direction"
    • Conclusion
      • "It all depends on [[execution]]. The underlying science is there. The engineers are willing. Even the funding is available in most cases. But, as a society, how much urgency do we feel? Our culture does not prioritize [[progress]]—it fights, destructively, for [[status]]. And our politics reflects our culture." (View Highlight)