Lost Futures

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Does OpenAI releasing davinci_003 and ChatGPT, both derived from GPT-3, mean we should expect considerably more wait time for GPT-4? Feels like it'd be odd if they released updates to GPT-3 just a month or two before releasing GPT-4.

I'm curious how long it'll be until a general model can play Diplomacy at this level. Anyone fine-tuned an LLM like GPT-3 on chess yet? Chess should be simpler for an LLM to learn unless my intuition is misleading?

GPT-3 was announced less than two and a half years ago. I don't think it's reasonable to assume that the market has fully absorbed its capabilities yet.

Hmm, I should rewrite the Falcon 9 sentence to clarify my intent. I meant to express that more affordable rockets were possible in the 90s compared to what existed, rather than that the F9 exactly was possible in the 90s.

They were, some Soviet engine design from the 70s were the best for their niche until the late 2010s.

Given that the Soviet Union collapsed soon after and that no competitive international launch market really began to emerge until the 2000s this isn't surprising. There was no incentive to improve. Moreover, engines are just one component of the rocket launch cost equation.

From NASA:

The technical problems leading to high space launch costs have been identified and cures proposed, but the long delay until the recent reduction in launch costs suggests that cultural and institutional barriers have hindered implementing potential technical improvements.

One study suggested that the record low cost of the Saturn V could be reduced by a factor of 5, to a cost similar to the Falcon Heavy.

The fundamental cause of the past high commercial launch cost seems to be lack of competition. The US launch industry has been a monopoly, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), and its main customer has been the US government, NASA and the military, which need high reliability and had little incentive to exert cost pressure. The ULA lost most of the commercial market to Russia and Arianespace which are also heavily subsidized by their governments

In 2010, NASA compared SpaceX’s cost to develop the Falcon 9 to the cost NASA’s models predicted using the traditional cost-plus-fee method. Using the NASA-AF Cost Model (NAFCOM), NASA estimated that it would have cost NASA $1,383 million to develop these systems using traditional contracting. The estimated SpaceX cost was $443 million, a 68% reduction from the traditional approach.

Until recently, virtually all major players in this space (heh) were monopolies, whether public or private. These organizations had little incentive to improve and were known to be highly inefficient. Why assume the Soviets reached a magical price floor that was impassable prior to the 2010s?

Funny you should say that, the king of France initially wanted condemned criminals to be the first test pilots for that very reason.

Would you consider the space shuttle doomed from the start then? Even without bureaucratic mismanagement, legislative interference, and persistent budget cuts? The market for rocket development in the 80s and 90s seems hardly optimal. You had OTRAG crushed by political pressure, the space shuttle project heavily interfered with, and Buran's development halted by the collapse of the Soviet Union. A global launch market didn't really even emerge until the 2000s. 

As a broader point, even if you chalk up the nonexistence of economically competitive partially reusable rockets to Moore's law, that still leaves an apparent gap in the development of more cost-effective expendable systems. Launch prices stagnated from the early 1970s until the 2000s. Surely expendable rockets in the 70s were not already as optimized as possible without 2000s computers.

Are contemporary rocket computer systems necessary for economical reusability? As I understand it, rocket launch costs stagnated for decades due to a lack of price competition stemming from the high initial capital costs involved in developing new rocket designs rather than us hitting a performance ceiling.

Thanks for the response jmh!

One idea might be that it should have been invented then IF the idea that air (gases) were basically just like water (fluids).

I dunno if this is an intuitive jump but it seems unnecessary. Sky lanterns were built without knowledge of the air acting as a fluid. I don't see why the same couldn't be true for the hot air balloon.

But there would also have to be some expected net gain from the effort to make doing the work worthwhile. Is there any reason to think the expect value gained from the invention and availability of the balloon was seen as anything more than a trivial novelty or toy (such as the Chinese seemed to think)?

As I understand it, expectations for the hot air balloon were placed too high rather than too low. In the 1600s, Francesco Lana de Terzi envisioned that a hypothetical airship (which he deemed impossible) could break sieges (ofc airships are not the same as hot air balloons, but at the time there was no distinction). A very valuable use case. After the invention of the hot air balloon, lofty expectations continued for some time. From Wikipedia, "The military applications of balloons were recognized early, with Joseph Montgolfier jokingly suggesting in 1782 that the French could fly an entire army suspended underneath hundreds of paper bags into Gibraltar to seize it from the British. Military leaders and political leaders soon began to see a more practical potential for balloons to be used in warfare; specifically in the role of reconnaissance."

After all, a balloon is not much like a ship which can be steered and the value of higher ground limited to just how far one can see clearly, and with sufficient detail.

This wasn't known prior to the invention of the hot air balloon. Bartolomeu de Gusmão, who allegedly built a prototype of something similar to a hot air balloon in the early 1700s expected it to be steerable like a ship.

The Archimedes example might be an easy case, but I'm wondering if there are not things to look into regarding the motivations for the work on an invention at the time that offer some type of change in the "environment" (social or intellectual/level of knowledge) that point to why no one did something we now think of as obvious.

The scientific and budding industrial revolution motivated a "spirit of invention". The idea of being an inventor by profession took root and led to more people taking a detailed look at the invention space. IMO, this shift in thinking turned the hot air balloon from an invention that some lone inventor with sufficient capital could have invented into a statistical inevitability.

Thanks for the detailed and informative response Breakfast! I think I largely agree with your post.

I find it likely that that the coincidence of the Montgolfier brothers' and Lenormands' demonstrations in France in 1873 was no accident. There was something about that place and that time that motivated them. If I had to guess, it was something cultural: the idea of testing things in the real world, familiarity with hundreds of years of parachute designs, a critical mass of competitive and supportive energy in the nascent aeronautics space, increasing cultural familiarity with connecting physical intuitions with practical engineering to design"magical" machines.

(1783* you mean.) A revolution in thought definitely aided the invention of the hot air balloon. Novel philosophical ideas and the scientific revolution inspired a more discerning examination of the invention space. But let me ask you this, do you believe the hot air balloon could not have been invented prior to these cultural ideas and parachute design knowledge? My intuition says no, especially given that the Montgolfiers' first balloon prototype was just a large sky lantern made of thin wood and taffeta lifted by burning paper.

IMO, the hot air balloon is an invention that had a fair probability of being invented anytime after the invention of the sky lantern but simply failed to materialize until the scientific revolution and aeronautics pushed said probability near 100%.

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