@pmarca on the world after Covid


Marc on the covid aftermath

(…)I believe, a permanent civilizational shift. It is perhaps the most important thing that’s happened in my lifetime, a consequence of the internet that’s maybe even more important than the internet. Permanently divorcing physical location from economic opportunity gives us a real shot at radically expanding the number of good jobs in the world while also dramatically improving quality of life for millions, or billions, of people. We may, at long last, shatter the geographic lottery, opening up opportunity to countless people who weren’t lucky enough to be born in the right place. And people are leaping at the opportunities this shift is already creating, moving both homes and jobs at furious rates. It will take years to understand where this leads, but I am extremely optimistic.

Noah interviews @pmarca


Am not doing quote blocks on this one – it’s so long. Everything under is quoted from the interview. Recommended.

“M.A.: My “software eats the world” thesis plays out in business in three stages:

A product is transformed from non-software to (entirely or mainly) software. Music compact discs become MP3’s and then streams. An alarm clock goes from a physical device on your bedside table to an app on your phone. A car goes from bent metal and glass, to software wrapped in bent metal and glass.

The producers of these products are transformed from manufacturing or media or financial services companies to (entirely or mainly) software companies. Their core capability becomes creating and running software. This is, of course, a very different discipline and culture from what they used to do

As software redefines the product, and assuming a competitive market not protected by a monopoly position or regulatory capture, the nature of competition in the industry changes until the best software wins, which means the best software company wins. The best software company may be an incumbent or a startup, whoever makes the best software.

My partner Alex Rampell says that competition between an incumbent and a software-driven startup is “a race, where the startup is trying to get distribution before the incumbent gets innovation”. The incumbent starts with a giant advantage, which is the existing customer base, the existing brand. But the software startup also starts with a giant advantage, which is a culture built to create software from the start, with no need to adapt an older culture designed to bend metal, shuffle paper, or answer phones.

As time passes, I am increasingly skeptical that most incumbents can adapt. The culture shift is just too hard. Great software people tend to not want to work at an incumbent where the culture is not optimized to them, where they are not in charge. It is proving easier in many cases to just start a new company than try to retrofit an incumbent. I used to think time would ameliorate this, as the world adapts to software, but the pattern seems to be intensifying. A good test for how seriously an incumbent is taking software is the percent of the top 100 executives and managers with computer science degrees. For a typical tech startup, the answer might be 50-70%. For a typical incumbent, the answer may be more like 5-7%. This is a huge”

[…]the true productive potential of the internet is only getting started, and that the pandemic will end up having pushed us to develop more distributed systems of production — much like when electricity allowed factories to switch from a single drive train to multiple independently powered workstations a century ago.

Packy on remote work: Remote work worked under the extreme duress of a pandemic, with all of the human impact of lockdowns and children unable to go to school and people being unable to see their friends and extended families. It will work even better out of COVID.

I think they all miss a more fundamental point, which is that crypto represents an architectural shift in how technology works and therefore how the world works.That architectural shift is called distributed consensus — the ability for many untrusted participants in a network to establish consistency and trust. This is something the Internet has never had, but now it does, and I think it will take 30 years to work through all of the things we can do as a result. Money is the easiest application of this idea, but think more broadly — we can now, in theory, build Internet native contracts, loans, insurance, title to real world assets, unique digital goods (known as non-fungible tokens or NFTs), online corporate structures (such as digital autonomous organizations or DAOs), and on and on.

Peter Thiel has made the characteristically sweeping observation that AI is in some sense a left wing idea — centralized machines making top-down decisions — but crypto is a right wing idea — many distributed agents, humans and bots, making bottom-up decisions. I think there’s something to that. Historically the tech industry has been dominated by left wing politics, just like any creative field, which is why you see today’s big tech companies so intertwined with the Democratic Party. Crypto potentially represents the creation of a whole new category of technology, quite literally right wing tech that is far more aggressively decentralized and far more comfortable with entrepreneurialism and free voluntary exchange. If you believe, as I do, that the world needs far more technology, this is a very powerful idea, a step function increase in what the technology world can do.

In what ways did the dreams of the 1990s techies come true? And in what ways were they dashed on the rocks of reality? When we think back on the 90s, how should we remember that era, and what ideas from that era should we hold on to? M.A.: It worked! The dreams came true; it all worked. And now we’re the dog that caught the bus. What do we do with this damned bus? Think about what we’ve done. Five billion people are now carrying networked supercomputers in their pockets. Anyone in the world can create a website and publish anything they want, can communicate with anyone or everyone, can access virtually any information that has ever existed. People live, work, learn, and love almost entirely online. Virtually all of the constituent components of the vision of the 1990s have come literally true. And yet, and yet. As Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, once said, “I didn’t say you’re all going to be happy. You’ll be unhappy – but in new, exciting, and important ways.”

Economist William Nordhaus long ago showed that 98% of the economic surplus created by a new technology is captured not by its inventor but by the broader world

The Internet Eats Up Less Energy Than You Might Think – NYT


[…]Telefónica and Cogent, which have reported data traffic and energy use for the Covid year of 2020. Telefónica handled a 45 percent jump in data through its network with no increase in energy use. Cogent’s electricity use fell 21 percent even as data traffic increased 38 percent.

An analysis published on Thursday suggests technology is not an environmental villain. One of the authors is Eric Masanet, a former researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.Credit…Erica Urech for The New York Times

The Fuck You pattern


This is a short story about dark patterns. Which are user-hostile UX decisions.

“Wow, fuck you. I just wanted to look at cats.”
“Well, fuck you, too. We’re here to sell ads.”

It’s not about dark patterns, that’s just a second-order effect. It was never about dark patterns.

This is the implied agreement. You understand it, or you don’t. And if you don’t, I guess you haven’t been on the web in the past decade or something.

What? You thought it was fair that a company spends millions in technical infrastructure and staffing so you can sit at home and spend your time looking at cats for free? No, they have your attention and they’re going to connect you to organizations who will pay for it.

andrewmcwatters on Hackernews

Work culture is changing

Expect to read more about this issue in the coming years. Sam Harris talked to Jason Fried on his podcast about this. All-In has talked about it. Coinbase is making its own media house to get around the traditional media. A16Z, a venture capital company is doing the same.

The message is clear – we are here to work on our mission nothing else and we cant have others speaking for us. The Guardian’s Jonathan Liew touched on the same issue when Osaka boycotted the French Open press conference. “Athletes now have their own direct line to the public, and spoiler: it’s not us”. Companies are doing the same.

Matt Taibbi writes:

At cryptocurrency firm Coinbase, employees demanded that CEO Brian Armstrong make a statement in support of Black Lives Matter. Armstrong, for a while, demurred. Then some employees and executives began what Wired called a “virtual walkout,” in which “senior engineers encouraged junior staff to close their laptops in solidarity.”

Armstrong quickly got religion, or so it seemed. He went on Twitter to announce, “I want to unequivocally say that Black Lives Matter.” Then, within weeks, Armstrong and Coinbase leadership flipped completely, announcing that the firm would no longer engage in “social activism,” and any employee who didn’t like the new policy could get the fuck out.

Coinbase offered 4-6 months of severance (depending on service time) and six months of COBRA, in a statement saying — in the thickest corporate sarcasm — that the arrangement could be a “win-win” for the politically minded, as “life is too short to work at a company you’re not excited about.” Only about 60 of the company’s 1,200 employees took the buyout.

At another tech firm, Basecamp, CEO Jason Fried — long the owner of a rep as a progressive corporate leader, as his company has published five books on workplace culture — put the kibosh on controversial talk at work, banning “societal and political discussions.” Shopify, an e-commerce firm that broke ground after the January 6th riots by closing online stores tied to Trump or MAGA merchandise, has now become a symbol of corporate pushback. CEO Tobi Lütke just sent an email to employees explaining that work is not life and life is not work, and employee demands should be adjusted accordingly:

Shopify, like any other for-profit company, is not a family. The very idea is preposterous. You are born into a family. You never choose it, and they can’t un-family you. It should be massively obvious that Shopify is not a family but I see people, even leaders, casually use terms like “Shopifam” which will cause the members of our teams (especially junior ones that have never worked anywhere else) to get the wrong impression. The dangers of “family thinking” are that it becomes incredibly hard to let poor performers go. Shopify is a team, not a family…

Shopify is also not the government. We cannot solve every societal problem here.

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.

How Clubhouse might still win – Noahpinion


The key thing about Clubhouse is that it takes a tremendous amount of time. Each room typically lasts for an hour or more.

With Clubhouse, if I wander by a random room, it takes me at least five minutes just to understand what people are talking about, and at least ten to get any kind of useful point. Audio doesn’t scroll. And that means you don’t just have to commit large amounts of time to Clubhouse in aggregate; you have to block off a solid chunk of time. That’s a big ask.

Worth reading this whole thread. Was on the money when it came out. 

The exciting thing about Clubhouse, in the beginning, was the drop-by conversations. Like Robinhoods Vlad getting grilled by Elon Musk. This was new, this is interesting.

As Noah writes, Clubhouse has a future, but it’s difficult to see which one. It’s a lot of noise for small signals. Could Clubhouse be improved with text as Noah says but also with AI transcribing the conversations so it’s easier to catch up and for participants to edit their highlights into a less rambling format?