This week in podcasts #6

The Economist Asks – John McWhorter

Good conversation on swearing and its impact. Lane Green from the Economist also joins.

The Ezra Klein Show – Sarah Schulman’s Radical Approach to Conflict, Communication and Change

The central argument is that we often mislabel conflict as abuse and view ourselves and act as victims of abuse without recognizing the power that we have in the situation, the way we may be part of and have a responsibility for ending a conflict.

They have a wide ranging talk where they talk LGBTQ, Israel vs Palestine, compassion, and other important subjects where communication needs to be productive.

The Dishcast – Jonathan Rauch On Dangers To Liberalism

In this episode we discuss his important new book, The Constitution of Knowledge, and get into some heated exchanges over Trump, the MSM, and Russiagate — Jon as the optimistic liberal and me as the pessimistic conservative.

Village Global’s Venture Stories – Education, The Great Stagnation, and Innovation with Noah Smith

Noah Smith, Bloomberg Opinion writer and author of the Noahpinion Substack, joins Erik to discuss:

– Why colleges should try to emulate the Cal State and CUNY systems, which Noah says provide the best value for dollars in education.

– Why the US should want to copy the Japanese and Korean healthcare systems, and the power that a national health insurance program has to drive cost down.

– Why the oil shock precipitated the great stagnation, and the evolution (and non-evolution) of energy sources over the years.

– What climate economics got wrong and why the revolution in green energy is will not only be about reducing carbon emissions but rather the abundance of cheap energy.

– What people get wrong about inflation and monetary policy and how the fed really works.

– What the US should do to increase innovation, and Noah’s take on whether science and commercialization of discoveries is slowing down or not.

Conversations with Tyler – Elijah Millgram on the Philosophical Life

Elijah joined Tyler to discuss Newcomb’s paradox, the reason he doesn’t have an opinion about everything, the philosophy of Dave Barry, style and simulation theory, why philosophers aren’t often consulted about current events, his best stories from TA-ing for Robert Nozick, the sociological correlates of knowing formal logic, the question of whether people are more interested in truth or being interesting, philosophical cycles, what makes Nietzsche important today, the role that meaning can play in a person’s personality and life, Mill on Bentham, the idea of true philosophy as dialogue, the extent to which modern philosophers are truly philosophical, why he views aesthetics as critical to philosophy, and more.

Macro Musings with David Beckworth – Jason Furman on Overheating, Inflation, and Fiscal Policy in an Era of Low Interest Rates

The real takeaway here is how J-Fur talks about how he evaluates information and updates his models. Hint: always use more than one. All models are wrong. The Tetlock Superforcasting or Kahneman Noise approach is best.

UFO follow up

A follow up discussion to the UFO post.

The interesting part is that as I wrote in my post – there is something here. Not little green men, but a bigger issue. Something is causing these things and we don’t know what they are.

Tyler Cowen also thinks we should take this seriously and writes about how markets might react.

Now that the Pentagon takes UFOs seriously, it’s perhaps appropriate to consider some more mundane aspects of the phenomenon — namely, what it means for markets. UFO data will probably remain murky and unresolved, but if UFOs of alien origin become somewhat more likely (starting, to be clear, from a low base rate), which prices will change?

Ezra Kleins take is also good.

One immediate effect, I suspect, would be a collapse in public trust. Decades of U.F.O. reports and conspiracies would take on a different cast. Governments would be seen as having withheld a profound truth from the public, whether or not they actually did. We already live in an age of conspiracy theories. Now the guardrails would truly shatter, because if U.F.O.s were real, despite decades of dismissals, who would remain trusted to say anything else was false? Certainly not the academics who’d laughed them off as nonsense, or the governments who would now be seen as liars.

This week in podcasts #4

Jolly Swagman – A General Theory of Catastrophe – Niall Ferguson

Around minute 20 they talk about reading and if you should stop reading a book. They also talk about economical cycles.

It’s not that much about Niall’s new book Doom, but a far reaching conversation and that’s the reason it made the list.

The Psychology Podcast with Scott Barry Kaufman – John McWhorter || Nasty Words

John McWhorter is always interesting. His appearance on Conversations with Tyler was fantastic.

Topics this time:

· Why John wrote a book on profanity

· Why we call it “swearing”

· Why people love the f-word

· How profanity “lives in the right brain”

· Why slurs sometimes become terms of affection

· Why every culture has slurs

· Why John thinks “the elect” is doing harm to society

· How to balance contrasting perspectives on racism

· John and Scott discuss the victim mentality

· Discerning between fact and fiction in racial justice

The Ezra Klein Show – Sam Altman on the A.I. Revolution, Trillionaires and the Future of Political Power

AI is coming and Sam Altman is the CEO of Open.AI – the creator of GPT-3.

They talk about the possibilities of AI. Image using DALL-E for illustration work. How the space is evolving and the hard conversations we need to have now – before it’s too late.

Comes A Time – Bill Kreutzmann and John Mayer

Bill is such a delight. He talks about his “social sliver” – micro-dosing LSD. John talks about how he got to know Jerry Garcia as a person through his playing.
Fascinating even if you’re not a Dead fan. It’s interesting to hear musicians who tour for much of the year talk in-depth about how corona altered their lives.

Modern Finance – MoFi Consensus [June 4th]

No reason to hear the whole thing if you’re not into crypto, but there is value in learning about DeFi. DeFi is turning around finance. In normal banking the bank lends out the money you store in your account, that where some liquidity comes from. In many DeFi projects you get a solid yield percentage for adding liquidity. DeFi is huge and has many use cases.

The Ezra Klein Show – Is A.I. the Problem? Or Are We?

Worth a listen!

And the famous quote is, “If we build a machine to achieve our purposes with which we cannot interfere once we’ve started it, then we had better be quite sure that the purpose we put into the machine is the thing we really desire.” And this has continued through the early 20th century, as the thought experiment of the Paperclip Maximizer that turns the universe into paperclips, killing everyone in the process.

But to your point, I don’t think we need these thought experiments anymore. We’re now living with these alignment problems every day. So, one example is there’s a facial recognition data set called Labeled Faces in the Wild. And it was collected by scraping newspaper articles off the web and using the images that came with the articles. Later, this data set was analyzed. And it was found that the most prevalent individuals in the data set were the people who appeared in newspaper articles in the late 2000s.

And so, you get issues like there are twice as many pictures of George W. Bush as of all Black women combined. And so, if you train a model on that data set, you think you’re building facial recognition, but you’re actually building George W. Bush recognition. And so, this is going to have totally unpredictable behavior.

There is a computer science research group that has the, I think, somewhat tongue in cheek title of People for the Ethical Treatment of Reinforcement Learning Agents. But there are people who absolutely sincerely think that we should start now thinking about the ethical implications of making a program play Super Mario Brothers for four months straight, 24 hours a day.

Ezra Klein
You talked about one that did Super Mario Brothers, and it’s just caught in this game that has no more novelty. And it’s a novelty seeking robot. And I thought it was so sad.

Brian Christian
Yeah, it just learns to sit there. Because it’s like, well, why would I jump across this little pipe because it’s just the same old shit on the other side. Like, well, I might as well just do nothing. I might as well just kill myself. And there have been reinforcement learning agents that, because of the nature of the environment, essentially learn to commit suicide as quickly as possible. Because there’s a time penalty being assessed for every second that passes that you don’t achieve some goal. And they can’t achieve it, so they’re like, well, the next best thing is to just like die right now.

And again, it’s like we’re somewhere on this slippery slope. I mean, there is this funny thing for me, where the more I study AI, the more concerned I become with animal rights. And I’m not saying that AlphaGo is equivalent to a factory farm chicken or something like that, necessarily. But going back to some of the things we’ve talked about, the dopamine system, some of these drives that are — the fact that we are building artificial neural networks that at least to some degree of approximation are modeled explicitly on the brain. We’re using TD learning, which is modeled explicitly on the dopamine system. We are building these things in our own image.

And so, the odds of them having some kind of subjective experience, I think, are higher than if we were just writing a generic software. This is the huge question of philosophy of mind, is are we going to if we manage to create something with a subjectivity or not? I’m not sure. But these questions, I think, are going to go from seemingly crazy now to maybe on a par with something like animal welfare by the end of the century. I think that’s not a crazy prediction to make.