All of ColtInn's Comments + Replies

Here's my take on "something to protect" from personal experience:

Finding something to protect is likely quite difficult for many people. I was certainly headed in that direction, and making progress, but after having a child my "power" leveled up by orders of magnitude (if not my ability to wield it). I didn't have a child for this purpose, and the magnitude of this effect was not knowable in advance, even if the sign seemed likely.

The fact of having a child does not make me more rational. It does, however, provide a very large incent... (read more)

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But why did you retract this? It is honest and coherent!

Many note taking apps allow you to attach a picture. You could take notes with a pen when it is inappropriate to use your phone, then take a picture of those notes and attach them to an entry in the app. Those notes are then digitally searchable.

Interesting idea

Six months ago I reverted to carrying and using a notebook. Prior to that I'd been using OneNote on my phone, with some success. The main reasons I began using a notebook again are: 1) when thinking about a particular problem I like to attempt describe its features in words, with a graph, and with math, where possible; 2) I find that I think slightly more clearly when I have to use a pen, and tend to be able to recall it better - not sure why this is.

I use a notebook that is about one third wider, slighter longer, and around three times thicker than my p... (read more)

My impression is that you are now evading questions and being deliberately provocative; but I'll play...

If the rate economic growth were to increase by x35, would you think you were in a runaway scenario?

When I'm being deliberately provocative, it's... more noticeable :-D I also know what a thought experiment is. What I was confused about is exactly which part of the whole discussion about exponential growth did you consider to be a thought experiment. If that were the only piece of information that I had, no, I would not think so. Insufficient data.

I did not mean to imply that situation in quote 1 would happen within the timeframe of quote 2, and I don't think i did. It's a thought experiment and I think that is clear.

And, by the way, understanding that you lost control is how you know you're in a runaway scenario.

There are examples of this in real history from smart people who thought we'd lost control - see Samuel Butler. We have, arguably. The extent to which machines are now integral to continued economic prosperity is irreversible without unbearable costs (people will die).

I am confused. What is a thought experiment?

We are talking about a runaway scenario in a human civilization, aren't we?

I don't think that's possible. Do you? A runaway means a massive and ongoing boost in productivity. That seems achievable only by AI, full brain emulations, or transhumans that are much smarter and faster at doing stuff than humans can be.

So what does it mean?

I was agreeing (mostly). My point was that by that definition we could never predict, or even know that we are in the middle of, a runway scenario. I did pose it as a question and you did not reply with an answer. So wh... (read more)

- Situation in quote 1 will not happen within the time frame in quote 2. Generally speaking, I understand "runaway" as "unstoppable", meaning both that it won't stop on its own (stall) and that we lost control over it. And, by the way, understanding that you lost control is how you know you're in a runaway scenario.

Precisely! So focus on the middle of the distribution, not the extremes.

No reason? How about humans?

So we're talking about a human based runaway scenario? That's not gonna happen.

Um. Runaway progress does not stall by defintion -- think about what "runaway" means.

OK, that's what 'runaway' growth means. Can this even be predicted. I think not. How could you possibly ever know that you're in a runaway? The transition from agriculture to industry saw an increase in economic growth roughly 65 times faster. I think if we saw global output accelerate by even half that in the next 20 years most would be calling a runaway scenario.

We are talking about a runaway scenario in a human civilization, aren't we? So what does it mean?

I don't think this would be runaway technological progress

No reason to think it won't be runaway technological progress, depending on how you define runaway. The industrial revolution was runaway technological progress. Going from an economic output doubling time of 1000 years to 15 years is certainly runway. The rate of growth ultimately stalled but it was certainly runaway for that transitional period, even though there were stalls along the way.

Edited to add link.
If you haven't already seen a version of this talk by Robin Hanson, the first 20 minute... (read more)

No reason? How about humans? Um. Runaway progress does not stall by defintion -- think about what "runaway" means.

I see. The demand side story. I suppose it is technically feasible but I find it unlikely in the extreme. There is nothing in history to suggest it and I don't think it fits with psychology. History is full of examples of how we won't want for anything after we have 'some foreseen progress'. We've had the luxury of being able to trade in some economic growth for more leisure, and still be better off than our grandparents, for a long time now, but haven't.

If the reasons are that we're running out of demand for improvement across the board, and people are

... (read more)

I'm not sure how you got from my comments that I don't understand exponential growth. But let me remake the point more clearly. The doubling time of economic growth has remained stable at around 15 years. The doubling time of computational processing speed has remained roughly stable at around 24 months. I agree that economic growth in developed economies in the last 20 years has come largely from tech progress . But it has not had an effect on the rate of economic growth.

I would say that it's only happened because of exponential technological progress;

... (read more)

This is my view too. A good portion of the people in my life are addicted to something at any given time by this broader definition. I've experienced short periods of it myself ranging from gaming to geeking out way to much on a particular topic at the expense of proper food and sleep. I see it as a result of access to an ever increasing range of pleasure induces experiences at ever lower costs and hyperbolic discounting - too much of a good thing with blinders to future costs.

On what Gunnar_Zarncke has named Extreme Curiosity: "Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.". -David Hume

As we shift from one paradigm of advancement to another, we may still have exponential growth, but the exponent for the new exponential growth paradigm may be quite different.

Won't the rate of economic growth be different (much larger) by definition? I can't envisage a scenario where economic growth could be roughly as it is now or slower but we have experienced anything even approaching a technological singularity. Think of the change in growth rates resulting from the farming and industrial revolutions.

Something to puzzle over is the fact we have seen computational grunt grow exponentially for decade upon decade yet economic growth has been stable over the same period.

Depends on the reason for the switch to a new paradigm. If the reason is that there are even more attractive options, then economic growth would accelerate. If the reasons are that we're running out of demand for improvement across the board, and people are more satisfied with their lives, and the technological low-hanging fruit are taken, then economic growth could be lower.
Economic growth itself is an exponential function. "The economy grows 3% every year" is exponential growth, not linear growth. I would say that it's only happened because of exponential technological progress; we never had that level of exponential growth until the industrial revolution. And I would say that most of the economic growth the first world has had over the past 20 years has come from recent technological advancement, mostly being the twin communication and computer revolutions we've had (PC's, cell phones, internet, smart phones, and some smaller examples of both).

My experience is from Australia where things are a little different yet the same patterns emerge in returns to these majors.

All Australian universities offer undergraduate business majors, from the top to the bottom. Typically a Bachelor of Commerce in which a student will take intro courses on accounting, finance, economics, management etc and select a major for the remainder of credits. Universities with large econ departments often offer a Bachelor of Economics, alternatively or in addition to Commerce which covers more ground in econ but less in other ... (read more)

True, but why the focus on elite colleges and investment banks? I think if you took out all grads employed by investment banks from all of the categories listed in the tables above you'd see the same pattern.

Non-elite colleges usually have both business and economics majors and students with the goal of maximizing their lifetime earnings often pick business. This might change the stats.

That's true, but employers are often looking for a skill set in additional to potential. Also, the interviewers are more likely majors from a business field than a philosophy grad and so can more easily evaluate suitability and potential based on a shared set of knowledge.

Most U.S. elite colleges don't have undergraduate business majors. It's (falsely in my opinion) considered beneath them. Investment banks would much, much, much rather hire a Harvard philosophy major than a state school business major.

Finally I realized that non-nerds actually find listening easier than reading.

A lot of nerds listen to podcast. I'd estimate 80% plus of my communication is textual and that includes with family, and I'm a father.

I listen to several hours of podcats per week. Podcasts aren't two way communication. Like text they can be left alone and returned to at will. They can be educational and or entertainment. My favourite podcasts are those which are mostly other people conversing with each other over some debatable ideas. Audiobooks can be good too. I mostly ... (read more)

Part 2

From #3

The "genie out of the bottle" character of technological progress leads to some interesting possibilities. If suppliers think that future demand will be high, then they'll invest in research and development that lowers the long-run cost of production, and those lower costs will stick permanently, even if future demand turns out to be not too high.

Well, they might invest in r&d. If they can take adavatge to increasing returns to scale in meeting demand they'd likely just build more whatevers.

Assuming you like the resulting

... (read more)
I meant technological progress that improves the price-performance tradeoff. I measure it by "what sort of prices do I see when I go to Amazon and search for USB flash drives?" I do agree that if the tools are there and people get them (essentially) for free they'll find ways to use it. If the tools are there but at exorbitant prices, they won't. This gets back to the question of whether it's easy enough to improve the price-performance tradeoff sufficiently dramatically to get to the threshold where people are willing to pay for it. The existence of early adopters and intermediate populations can help bridge the chasm. Thanks once again for your comments!
This is true, and relates to the points i made later about the nature of demand and production structure mattering. See the PS where I go into this in more detail. Perhaps my language wasn't clear. Obviously, they're not freeriding at the point in time when the market is young. But by the time the market gets large enough and costs drop, they are effectively freeriding. For instance, I would probably pay something like $50/month for Facebook, but I get it for free because Facebook knows that most of its users wouldn't be willing to pay for their service, so they offer it for free. So I save $50/month, freeriding on the stinginess of other users. You may argue that the early adopters paid their dues by buying the technology early on. But there could be a bunch of young people who "would have been early adopters" if they'd been around in the technology's infancy but they weren't around. Yes, that is correct, it need not be the case. At the same time, I think it's a consideration. More in my next reply comment.
Also, my other posts may interest you. I look forward to your comments on those as well :).
Thanks for your very detailed and carefully explained thoughts! I'm a bit busy with other things right now. I'll respond to your points in a day or two, after I get the opportunity to double-check some of the points you raised.


First contribution here but I've been lurking since the move from Overcoming Bias. Play nice :) I think this is an important subject matter which few people are giving attention to so I thought I'd offer some comments that might assist.

My comment was deemed too long so I've Split it up. If that's bad form let me know. Considered removing quotations of the OP but it would make it too difficult to read.

If you are going to use pieces of standard microeconomics in future versions of this analysis it might be best to spend a bit more time defining them more... (read more)

I already mentioned (and linked to) the term "experience curve effects" which is synonymous. I didn't claim this is unique to any specific industries, just that it was somewhat related to the point about the time-directionality of technology. I had written: You write: Yes, I agree.
I agree that knowledge relevant to production is technology. But still, the fraction of a product's cost that's attributable to technology can vary widely. And the fraction that's attributable to new technology at the margin can vary even more widely. For instance, printing presses for books are technology, but they're not technology at the margin. The technology has already been invented. When you set up a printing press based on old, pre-existing technology, you are investing in capital and labor, not in technology (except insofar as your buying the equipment played an incentivizing role retrospectively for the people who came up with the relevant printing press technology). The ratios also matter. If we're shipping physical books, then the marginal cost is over a dollar. If we're letting people download e-books, the marginal cost is under a cent. If we think of the content of the book as the "technology" (insofar as it contains ideas) then the ratio of technology fixed cost (the cost of writing the book) to the costs of selling/distributing the book is a lot higher in the e-book case because the cost of selling/distributing is lower.
I'll reply to your points one by one, and link to these replies from the main post. On your point about short and long run and fixed versus variable costs. Thanks for that observation. I now realize that I wasn't clearly distinguishing between two related but distinct ideas: * Even in the short run, a huge proportion of fixed costs means that the average cost per widget can go down as production increases for wide variation in the initial quantity of production. This could happen even though the marginal cost goes up, because the fixed costs still explain the bulk of production cost. The short-run supply curve could still be upward-sloping, but the short-run average total cost curve would be downward-sloping for quite a while (this is the average versus marginal distinction). * The long-run supply curve is selected as an envelope of short-run supply curves, where different short-run supply curves consider different production scenarios. The reason why we can consider multiple short-run supply curves is that we have freedom to vary the "fixed" costs. Whether the long-run supply curve is upward-sloping or downward-sloping will depend on whether things become cheaper per unit when we spend more. I do see now that the ideas are conceptually distinct. They are related in the following very trivial sense: if fixed costs contributed nothing at all to production, then the short run and long run behavior wouldn't differ. If, however, fixed costs do contribute something, then while we can say that the long-run supply curve is not as upward-sloping as the short-run supply curve, we can't categorically say that it will be downward-sloping. It could be that to double the production, the best strategy is to double fixed and variable costs, so that the long-run supply curve would just be flat (regardless of whether fixed or variable costs dominate). I guess what I was additionally (implicitly) assuming is not just that the fixed costs dom
Part 2 From #3 Well, they might invest in r&d. If they can take adavatge to increasing returns to scale in meeting demand they'd likely just build more whatevers. Interesting, but I think the damage to willingness to invest would be too dear a loss and wouldn't assume it away. Don't know how much extra was gained through the tech bubble in terms of tech we wouldn't otherwise have had. The bublle was in speculative financial market investment and not necessarily in in real economy actual stuff. I'll grant there is probably some crossover. Still, if people see real value in production they will demand those goods. Did we get some gains in housing tech that we wouldn't otherwise have had because of the housing bubble? Won't it? I think it will. Lower costs -> higher accounting profits. I don't follow this. Given that they are early-adopters, only other early adopters are present in the market at that point in time. How can they be freeriding off consumers who are willing to strike a tough bargain, as you say, if those bargain strikers are not present in the market by definition? You mean they benefit later when the later adopters enter? presumably the ealry adopters are at that time moved on to something newer and better. This need not be the case especially in the face of further tech improvements in production or dramatically lower costs of factors of production, even for exogenous reasons. True enough it seems. And this is they way of things. The prospect of offering transcontinental flight to a european forager millenia ago would have been absurd. A hangliding tour, maybe not so much. From #5 I can broadly support the segments you've categorised. But I disagree with the notion that "Progress in all three areas is somewhat related but not too much. In particular, the middle is the part that has seen the most progress over the last decade or so, perhaps because demand in this sector is most robust and price-sensitive, or because the challenges there are the