nhaliday + venture   60

What Peter Thiel thinks about AI risk - Less Wrong
TL;DR: he thinks its an issue but also feels AGI is very distant and hence less worried about it than Musk.

I recommend the rest of the lecture as well, it's a good summary of "Zero to One"  and a good QA afterwards.

For context, in case anyone doesn't realize: Thiel has been MIRI's top donor throughout its history.

other stuff:
nice interview question: "thing you know is true that not everyone agrees on?"
"learning from failure overrated"
cleantech a huge market, hard to compete
software makes for easy monopolies (zero marginal costs, network effects, etc.)
for most of history inventors did not benefit much (continuous competition)
ethical behavior is a luxury of monopoly
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february 2018 by nhaliday
Definite optimism as human capital | Dan Wang
I’ve come to the view that creativity and innovative capacity aren’t a fixed stock, coiled and waiting to be released by policy. Now, I know that a country will not do well if it has poor infrastructure, interest rate management, tax and regulation levels, and a whole host of other issues. But getting them right isn’t sufficient to promote innovation; past a certain margin, when they’re all at rational levels, we ought to focus on promoting creativity and drive as a means to propel growth.


When I say “positive” vision, I don’t mean that people must see the future as a cheerful one. Instead, I’m saying that people ought to have a vision at all: A clear sense of how the technological future will be different from today. To have a positive vision, people must first expand their imaginations. And I submit that an interest in science fiction, the material world, and proximity to industry all help to refine that optimism. I mean to promote imagination by direct injection.


If a state has lost most of its jobs for electrical engineers, or nuclear engineers, or mechanical engineers, then fewer young people in that state will study those practices, and technological development in related fields slow down a little further. When I bring up these thoughts on resisting industrial decline to economists, I’m unsatisfied with their responses. They tend to respond by tautology (“By definition, outsourcing improves on the status quo”) or arithmetic (see: gains from comparative advantage, Ricardo). These kinds of logical exercises are not enough. I would like for more economists to consider a human capital perspective for preserving manufacturing expertise (to some degree).

I wonder if the so-called developed countries should be careful of their own premature deindustrialization. The US industrial base has faltered, but there is still so much left to build. Until we’ve perfected asteroid mining and super-skyscrapers and fusion rockets and Jupiter colonies and matter compilers, we can’t be satisfied with innovation confined mostly to the digital world.

Those who don’t mind the decline of manufacturing employment like to say that people have moved on to higher-value work. But I’m not sure that this is usually the case. Even if there’s an endlessly capacious service sector to absorb job losses in manufacturing, it’s often the case that these new jobs feature lower productivity growth and involve greater rent-seeking. Not everyone is becoming hedge fund managers and machine learning engineers. According to BLS, the bulk of service jobs are in 1. government (22 million), 2. professional services (19m), 3. healthcare (18m), 4. retail (15m), and 5. leisure and hospitality (15m). In addition to being often low-paying but still competitive, a great deal of service sector jobs tend to stress capacity for emotional labor over capacity for manual labor. And it’s the latter that tends to be more present in fields involving technological upgrading.


Here’s a bit more skepticism of service jobs. In an excellent essay on declining productivity growth, Adair Turner makes the point that many service jobs are essentially zero-sum. I’d like to emphasize and elaborate on that idea here.


Call me a romantic, but I’d like everyone to think more about industrial lubricants, gas turbines, thorium reactors, wire production, ball bearings, underwater cables, and all the things that power our material world. I abide by a strict rule never to post or tweet about current political stuff; instead I try to draw more attention to the world of materials. And I’d like to remind people that there are many things more edifying than following White House scandals.


First, we can all try to engage more actively with the material world, not merely the digital or natural world. Go ahead and pick an industrial phenomenon and learn more about it. Learn more about the history of aviation, and what it took to break the sound barrier; gaze at the container ships as they sail into port, and keep in mind that they carry 90 percent of the goods you see around you; read about what we mold plastics to do; meditate on the importance of steel in civilization; figure out what’s driving the decline in the cost of solar energy production, or how we draw electricity from nuclear fission, or what it takes to extract petroleum or natural gas from the ground.


Here’s one more point that I’d like to add on Girard at college: I wonder if to some extent current dynamics are the result of the liberal arts approach of “college teaches you how to think, not what to think.” I’ve never seen much data to support this wonderful claim that college is good at teaching critical thinking skills. Instead, students spend most of their energies focused on raising or lowering the status of the works they study or the people around them, giving rise to the Girardian terror that has gripped so many campuses.

College as an incubator of Girardian terror: http://danwang.co/college-girardian-terror/
It’s hard to construct a more perfect incubator for mimetic contagion than the American college campus. Most 18-year-olds are not super differentiated from each other. By construction, whatever distinctions any does have are usually earned through brutal, zero-sum competitions. These tournament-type distinctions include: SAT scores at or near perfection; being a top player on a sports team; gaining master status from chess matches; playing first instrument in state orchestra; earning high rankings in Math Olympiad; and so on, culminating in gaining admission to a particular college.

Once people enter college, they get socialized into group environments that usually continue to operate in zero-sum competitive dynamics. These include orchestras and sport teams; fraternities and sororities; and many types of clubs. The biggest source of mimetic pressures are the classes. Everyone starts out by taking the same intro classes; those seeking distinction throw themselves into the hardest classes, or seek tutelage from star professors, and try to earn the highest grades.

Mimesis Machines and Millennials: http://quillette.com/2017/11/02/mimesis-machines-millennials/
In 1956, a young Liverpudlian named John Winston Lennon heard the mournful notes of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, and was transformed. He would later recall, “nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.” It is an ancient human story. An inspiring model, an inspired imitator, and a changed world.

Mimesis is the phenomenon of human mimicry. Humans see, and they strive to become what they see. The prolific Franco-Californian philosopher René Girard described the human hunger for imitation as mimetic desire. According to Girard, mimetic desire is a mighty psychosocial force that drives human behavior. When attempted imitation fails, (i.e. I want, but fail, to imitate my colleague’s promotion to VP of Business Development), mimetic rivalry arises. According to mimetic theory, periodic scapegoating—the ritualistic expelling of a member of the community—evolved as a way for archaic societies to diffuse rivalries and maintain the general peace.

As civilization matured, social institutions evolved to prevent conflict. To Girard, sacrificial religious ceremonies first arose as imitations of earlier scapegoating rituals. From the mimetic worldview healthy social institutions perform two primary functions,

They satisfy mimetic desire and reduce mimetic rivalry by allowing imitation to take place.
They thereby reduce the need to diffuse mimetic rivalry through scapegoating.
Tranquil societies possess and value institutions that are mimesis tolerant. These institutions, such as religion and family, are Mimesis Machines. They enable millions to see, imitate, and become new versions of themselves. Mimesis Machines, satiate the primal desire for imitation, and produce happy, contented people. Through Mimesis Machines, Elvis fans can become Beatles.

Volatile societies, on the other hand, possess and value mimesis resistant institutions that frustrate attempts at mimicry, and mass produce frustrated, resentful people. These institutions, such as capitalism and beauty hierarchies, are Mimesis Shredders. They stratify humanity, and block the ‘nots’ from imitating the ‘haves’.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
Trust in Large Organizations
We argue that trust should be particularly important for the performance of large organizations. In a cross-section of countries, evidence on government performance, participation in civic and professional societies, importance of large firms, and the performance of social institutions more generally supports this hypothesis. Moreover, trust is lower in countries with dominant hierarchical religions, which may have deterred networks of cooperation trust hold up remarkably well on a cross-section of countries.

The Importance of Trust for Investment: Evidence from Venture Capital: http://www.nber.org/papers/w16923
We examine the effect of trust on financial investment and contracting decisions in a micro-economic environment where trust is exogenous. Using hand-collected data on European venture capital, we show that the Eurobarometer measure of trust among nations significantly affects investment decisions. This holds even after controlling for investor and company fixed effects, geographic distance, information and transaction costs. The national identity of venture capital firms' individual partners further contributes to the effect of trust. Education and work experience reduce the effect of trust but do not eliminate it. We also examine the relationship between trust and sophisticated contracts involving contingent control rights and find that, even after controlling for endogeneity, they are complements, not substitutes.

Breach of Trust in Hostile Takeovers: http://www.nber.org/papers/w2342
The paper questions the common view that share price increases of firms involved in hostile takeovers measure efficiency gains from acquisitions. Even if such gains exist, most of the increase in the combined value of the target and the acquirer is likely to come from stakeholder wealth losses, such as declines in value of subcontractors' firm-specific capital or employees' human capital. The use of event studies to gauge wealth creation in takeovers is unjustified. The paper also suggests a theory of managerial behavior, in which hiring and entrenching trustworthy managers enables shareholders to commit to upholding implicit contracts with stakeholders. Hostile takeovers are an innovation allowing shareholders to renege on such contracts ex post, against managers' will. On this view, shareholder gains are redistributions from stakeholders, and can in the long run result in deterioration of trust necessary for the functioning of the corporation.

Trust in Public Finance: http://www.nber.org/papers/w9187
Using data on trust and trustworthiness from the 1990 wave of the World Values Survey, I first investigate a model of the extent of tax cheating and the size of government that recognizes the interdependence of the two. The results reveal that tax cheating is lower in countries that exhibit more (not-government-related) trustworthiness. However, holding that constant, tax cheating becomes more acceptable as government grows. All in all, there is some weak evidence that the strong positive cross-country correlation between the size of government and tax cheating masks the fact that big government induces tax cheating while, at the same time, tax cheating constrains big government. I then add to the structural model an equation determining the level of prosperity, allowing prosperity to depend, inter alia, on the level of government and on trust in others. I find some evidence that both prosperity and government involvement are higher in more trusting societies. Moreover, holding these measures of trust constant, the association of government size with prosperity is positive until a level of government spending somewhere between 31% and 38% of GDP, after which its marginal effect is negative. Thus, although a trusting citizenry allows larger government, the tax burden this entails erodes the rule obedience taxpayers exhibit toward government.

Tax cheating among whites: http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2017/04/tax-cheating-among-whites.html
The masses still more or less assume that “against the law” is a synonym for “wrong.” It is known that the criminal law is harsh and full of anomalies and that litigation is so expensive as always to favour the rich against the poor: but there is a general feeling that the law, such as it is, will be scrupulously administered … An Englishman does not believe in his bones, as a Spanish or Italian peasant does, that the law is simply a racket.

The English People, Collins, 1947

WEIRDO societies require WEIRDOs to make them work. The less WEIRDO a society becomes, the more being a WEIRDO--characterized by high social trust, reciprocity, political compromise, generosity to those in need, isonomy, etc--switches from being an advantage to being a disadvantage. Social trust declines, reciprocity disappears, political compromise is replaced by a winner-take-all ethnic spoils system, generosity is exploited to the point that it is seen as an entitlement, and the legal system gets hijacked by racial grievance concepts like "social justice". It's a vicious circle.

Theodore Roosevelt
Third Annual Message
December 7, 1903

The consistent policy of the National Government, so far as it has the power, is to hold in check the unscrupulous man, whether employer or employee; but to refuse to weaken individual initiative or to hamper or cramp the industrial development of the country. We recognize that this is an era of federation and combination, in which great capitalistic corporations and labor unions have become factors of tremendous importance in all industrial centers. Hearty recognition is given the far-reaching, beneficent work which has been accomplished through both corporations and unions, and the line as between different corporations, as between different unions, is drawn as it is between different individuals; that is, it is drawn on conduct, the effort being to treat both organized capital and organized labor alike; asking nothing save that the interest of each shall be brought into harmony with the interest of the general public, and that the conduct of each shall conform to the fundamental rules of obedience to law, of individual freedom, and of justice and fair dealing towards all. Whenever either corporation, labor union, or individual disregards the law or acts in a spirit of arbitrary and tyrannous interference with the rights of others, whether corporations or individuals, then where the Federal Government has jurisdiction, it will see to it that the misconduct is stopped, paying not the slightest heed to the position or power of the corporation, the union or the individual, but only to one vital fact--that is, the question whether or not the conduct of the individual or aggregate of individuals is in accordance with the law of the land. Every man must be guaranteed his liberty and his right to do as he likes with his property or his labor, so long as he does not infringe the rights of others. _No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor._
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Our Demographic Decline - The Daily Beast
Hypothesis: to slow demographic/cultural transformation,no ideology will make any difference,only rich/powerful people having huge families.
You can keep one or two kids walled off from a decaying society,if you have enough money and connections. You can't do that with eight kids.
I don't worship Elon Musk,but it seems nonaccidental that only plutocrat with any kind of vital or inspiring vision of the future has 5 kids

Demographics, Robots, and AI | Elon Musk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA4ydDUsgJU
- TFRs about 50% of replacement throughout much of Europe. what's that gonna do to society?
- like the comment about people needing to develop a sense of duty to reproduce.

I think I think demographics is is a real issue where people are not having kids in a lot of countries and very often they'll say I'll solve it with immigration. Immigration from where?! If...Europe has an average of many plots...Europe have an average of of a 50 or six...you know they're only at fifty or sixty percent of what's needed for replacement or China for that matter they're at half replacement rate where exactly are we going to find six hundred million people to replace the ones that were never born. I think people are going to have to regard to some degree than the notion of having kids as almost a social duty. Within reason, I mean just if you can and you're so inclined you should, you should. You know it's like otherwise civilization will just die literally.

that's true of older generation of, eg, NYT writers but I think this new crop will just have fewer kids, be less hypocritical, more terrible

Many of the smartest people I know are quietly giving up on America. They don't see viable future. Very troubling.
They are choosing "exit" instead of voice. Abandoning politics. This takes many forms:
>denialism - tuning it out; moving to the country or gated community
>localism - rebuilding at local levels
>futurism - embracing tech to build the future
>nihilism - not voting; drugs
People point to American resilience throughout history. They view this period of time as different for a variety of reasons: debt, demographics, cultural decline, destructive technology, etc. Late-stage empire decline.

that netouyo__ comment (deleeted) about 'The Sopranos' and how the subtext was that we're at the end of America, not the beginning
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february 2017 by nhaliday
Do venture capitalists matter? | MIT News
A new study co-authored by an MIT professor shows that venture capitalists do help startup firms by closely monitoring their development, and that the availability of direct airplane flights between the two parties helps improve that oversight.

Indeed, the introduction of a new airline route directly connecting venture capitalists to fledgling companies in which they have already invested leads to a 3.1 percent increase in the patents those firms are granted, as well as a 5.8 percent increase in the citations those patents receive — compared to equivalent cases where similar investments are made but direct flights never become available.
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december 2016 by nhaliday
What You Can't Say
E Pur Si Muove:

Sam Altman and the fear of political correctness: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/12/sam-altman-fear-political-correctness.html
Earlier this year, I noticed something in China that really surprised me. I realized I felt more comfortable discussing controversial ideas in Beijing than in San Francisco. I didn’t feel completely comfortable—this was China, after all—just more comfortable than at home.

That showed me just how bad things have become, and how much things have changed since I first got started here in 2005.

It seems easier to accidentally speak heresies in San Francisco every year. Debating a controversial idea, even if you 95% agree with the consensus side, seems ill-advised.
And so it runs with shadow prices for speech, including rights to say things and to ask questions. Whatever you are free to say in America, you have said many times already, and the marginal value of exercising that freedom yet again doesn’t seem so high. But you show up in China, and wow, your pent-up urges are not forbidden topics any more. Just do be careful with your mentions of Uncle Xi, Taiwan, Tibet, Uighur terrorists, and disappearing generals. That said, in downtown Berkeley you can speculate rather freely on whether China will someday end up as a Christian nation, and hardly anybody will be offended.

For this reason, where we live typically seems especially unfree when it comes to speech. And when I am in China, I usually have so, so many new dishes I want to sample, including chestnuts and pumpkin.

replies: http://www.businessinsider.com/sam-altman-ignites-debate-on-whether-silicon-valley-culture-makes-it-tough-to-innovate-2017-12


Baidu's Robin Li is Helping China Win the 21st Century: http://time.com/5107485/baidus-robin-li-helping-china-win-21st-century/
Therein lies the contradiction at the heart of China’s efforts to forge the future: the country has the world’s most severe restrictions on Internet freedom, according to advocacy group Freedom House. China employs a highly sophisticated censorship apparatus, dubbed the Great Firewall, to snuff out any content deemed critical or inappropriate. Google, Facebook and Twitter, as well as news portals like the New York Times, Bloomberg and TIME, are banned. Manned by an army of 2 million online censors, the Great Firewall gives outsiders the impression of deathly silence within.

But in fact, business thrives inside the firewall’s confines–on its guardians’ terms, of course–and the restrictions have not appeared to stymie progress. “It turns out you don’t need to know the truth of what happened in Tiananmen Square to develop a great smartphone app,” says Kaiser Kuo, formerly Baidu’s head of international communications and a co-host of Sinica, an authoritative podcast on China. “There is a deep hubris in the West about this.” The central government in Beijing has a fearsome capacity to get things done and is willing to back its policy priorities with hard cash. The benefits for companies willing or able to go along with its whims are clear. The question for Baidu–and for Li–is how far it is willing to go.

Silicon Valley would be wise to follow China’s lead: https://www.ft.com/content/42daca9e-facc-11e7-9bfc-052cbba03425
The work ethic in Chinese tech companies far outpaces their US rivals

The declaration by Didi, the Chinese ride-hailing company, that delivery business Meituan’s decision to launch a rival service would spark “the war of the century”, throws the intensive competition between the country’s technology companies into stark relief.

The call to arms will certainly act as a spur for Didi employees, although it is difficult to see how they can work even harder. But what it does reveal is the striking contrast between working life in China’s technology companies and their counterparts in the west.

In California, the blogosphere has been full of chatter about the inequity of life. Some of this, especially for women, is true and for certain individuals their day of reckoning has been long overdue. But many of the soul-sapping discussions seem like unwarranted distractions. In recent months, there have been complaints about the political sensibilities of speakers invited to address a corporate audience; debates over the appropriate length of paternity leave or work-life balances; and grumbling about the need for a space for musical jam sessions. These seem like the concerns of a society that is becoming unhinged.


While male chauvinism is still common in the home, women have an easier time gaining recognition and respect in China’s technology workplaces — although they are still seriously under-represented in the senior ranks. Many of these high-flyers only see their children — who are often raised by a grandmother or nanny — for a few minutes a day. There are even examples of husbands, eager to spend time with their wives, who travel with them on business trips as a way to maintain contact.

What I learned from 5 weeks in Beijing + Shanghai:

- startup creation + velocity dwarfs anything in SF
- no one in China I met is remotely worried about U.S. or possibly even cares
- access to capital is crazy
- scale feels about 20x of SF
- endless energy
- not SV jaded


Western values are freeriding on Western innovation.
Comparatively unimpeded pursuit of curiosity into innovation is a Western value that pays the carriage fare.
True. A lot of values are worthwhile in certain contexts but should never have been scaled.

Diversity, "social mobility", iconoclasm
but due to military and technological victory over its competitors
There's something to be said for Western social trust as well, though that's an institution more than an idea
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october 2016 by nhaliday
Elad Blog: End of Cycle?
One sign that technology markets often exhibit at the tail end of a cycle is a fast diversification of the types of startups getting funded. For example, following the core internet boom of the late 90s (Google, Yahoo!, eBay, PayPal), in early 2000 and 2001 there was a sudden diversification and investment into P2P and mobile (before mobile was ready) and then in 2002-2003 people started looking at CleanTech, Nanotech etc - industries that obviously all eventually failed from an entrepreneurial and investment return perspective.
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july 2016 by nhaliday
Tell HN: Winners of Apply HN for YC Fellowship 3 | Hacker News
AutoMicroFarm looks pretty cool. Reminds me of my middle school science fair project.
yc  discussion  venture  startups  hn  commentary 
may 2016 by nhaliday
Apply HN: Pinboard – Make Y Combinator Great Again | Hacker News
Following in this earnest vein, I live a life of independence and fun, and would like to encourage young technical people to live that life too, rather than wasting their youth in pursuit of a one-in-ten-thousand shot at plutocracy.
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april 2016 by nhaliday

bundles : biznessframetechie

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