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
  • {{[video]:}}
  • (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.

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