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AMA: Jason Crawford, The Roots of Progress

Yes, but what I’m getting at is How do we know there’s a limited number of low hanging fruit? Or, as we make progress, don’t previously high fruit come into reach? AND, more progress opens more markets/fields.

It seems to me low hanging fruit is a bad analogy because there’s not way to know the number of undiscovered fruit out there. And perhaps it’s infinite. Or, it INCREASES the more we figure out.

My two cents - stagnation isn’t due to supply of good ideas waiting to be discovered, it’s stifling of free and open exploration by our norms that promote institutionalization of discovery.

AMA: Jason Crawford, The Roots of Progress

How could it be that ideas are progressively harder to find AND we waited so long for the bicycle? How can we know how many undiscovered bicycles, ie low hanging fruit, are out there?

Seems as progress progresses and the adjacent possible expands, the number of undiscovered bicycles within easy reach expands.

How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks

I think the idea of effective mask use has withstood sufficient criticism to warrant spreading aggressively, both to the public as well as experts in the field. It may be a mistake, but compared to no mask at all (risk of infection, barriers to reentering society) it is hard to see it being a significant mistake. The potential upside is significant. We may have a relatively cheap and safe countermeasure within reach.

How to promote widespread usage of high quality, reusable masks

I agree with the approach of individuals controlling spread through cheap effective masks. If the portal of entry and exit of this virus is the mouth, nose and eyes, (fecal is debateable) then if everyone contained transmission through these openings, the pandemic would be over.

There is a lot of talk about vaccines and treatments and seclusion, but these are complex, prone to failure, and have very clear negative/unintended consequences.

Effective masks are simple, can be implemented rapidly, confer benefits at the margin, and the negative consequences are harder to see, although certainly worth considering (ie- making it harder for healthcare workers).

Therefore, we should look hard for cheap effective masks, or demonstrate why it's a bad idea.

I also agree that the seal is important as well as reusability.

My hospital uses full face snorkel masks with N-99 filter, though this is extremely uncomfortable for significant periods of time and difficult to talk. These masks exist in large affordable quantities on Amazon/Walmart. I'm working on making adjustments to this for comfort, but not making a lot of progress. https://www.pneumask.org/

The benefit appears to be that it covers the eyes as well as the mouth nose, but the cost of comfort is not worth it long term.

Another challenge is fashion. It just feels weird to wear an intense-looking mask in public. It may be worthwhile to spend some time pushing on this area, especially because there is some stigma to not wearing a mask at all.

Rob Wiblin's top EconTalk episode recommendations

I had this same problem and finally cracked it (navigating the iOS podcast world stumps me).

Step 1: In iOS podcast app, tap "search" in lower right and enter "econtalk" Step 2: The app populates the archives going back to 2006, tap on the year you're looking for, such as 2007 and scroll for "Weingast on Violence, Power and a Theory of Everything." Step 3: Tap the three dots to upper right of episode and choose "Download Episode." Step 5: Repeat for all the other archived episodes you want. Step 6: Now for the trick- to locate your downloaded episodes, go to the app's main menu and tap "My Podcasts" at the bottom. Disregard the first appearance of "EconTalk," and instead scroll down past all of the podcasts that you subscribe to. The archived talks you've downloaded will appear close to the bottom, aggregated by year.

Painful. I'm sure there's a smarter way to do it, maybe Dominik's suggestion below, but this should work for you.

Rob Wiblin's top EconTalk episode recommendations

This is fantastically helpful, thank you so much for taking the time.

Makes me ponder the value of an "EA Curator." There's such an overwhelming amount of mind-bending content in the EA universe and its adjacent possible. This list of podcasts clearly only scratches the surface, yet I find myself wondering how I'm going to fit this in with the dozens of other podcast episodes, audiobooks, and print books I have on my plate, let alone other modes of discovery (and worse, how this at some point impinges on the time I have to do actual work on ideas that are so important).

Many EA's have lists of books.... perhaps there could be an EA Reddit thread for simply voting up or down inspiringly-EA books, articles, blog posts, podcast episodes, etc?

Or, just a list of EA lists? Rob Wiblin's list of podcasts indexed along with anyone else's podcast list? Bonus for a method to vote individual lists up or down?

Can a Transparent Idea Directory reduce transaction costs of new ideas?

Interesting. It sounds like you're possibly suggesting there's a taxonomy of ideas. Some ideas warrant simple experiments (in this case, a simple experiment would be to review the various EA threads and simply enter proposed ideas in a table online), others warrant further research (like some of the questions begot by your global warming example), etc. Am I describing this right? I'm guessing this must have been done- any ideas on where to look.

Perhaps it's worthwhile to review the analysis of- "What are productive ideas?" Ultimately, this could result in a one-pager about what a good idea is, how to develop it, and how (when, and to whom) to pitch it.

Can a Transparent Idea Directory reduce transaction costs of new ideas?

While I completely see what you're saying, at the risk of sounding obtuse, I think the opposite of your opener may be true.

"People who do things are not, in general, idea constrained"

The contrary of this statement may be the fundamental point of EA (or at least a variant of it): People who do things in general (outside of EA) tend to act on bad ideas. In fact, EA is more about the ideas underlying what we do than it is about the doing itself. Millions of affluent people are doing things (going to school, work, upgrading their cars and homes, giving to charity), without examining the underlying ideas. EA's success is its ability to convert doers to adopt its ideas. It's creating a pool of doers who use EA ideas instead of conventional wisdom.

Perhaps there are two classes of doers, those already in the EA community who "get it," and those outside who are just plugging away at life. When I think of filling talent gaps, I think that can be filled by (A) EA community members developing skills, and (B) recruiting skilled people to join the community. Group A probably doesn't need good ideas because they've already accepted the ideas of our favorite thinkers etc. The marginal benefit of even better ideas is small. Instead, group A is better off if it simply gets down to the hard work of growing talent. But group B is laboring under bad ideas, and for many, it might not take much at all to get them to substitute bad ideas for EA-ideas. My guess is that, to grow talent, it is easier to convert doers from group B than to optimize doers in group A (which is certainly not to say group A shouldn't do the hard work of optimizing their talent).

There is an odd circularity here- I think I just argued myself out of my original stance. I seem to have just concluded that we shouldn't focus on the ideas of the EA community (which was my original intention) and instead should focus on methods of recruiting.

Maybe I'm arguing that we should develop recruiting ideas?

Also- any suggestions for good formal discussions of the philosophy and sociology of ideas (beyond the slightly nauseating pop business literature)? "Where Good Ideas Come From" by Steven Johnson is excellent, but not philosophically rigorous.

Can a Transparent Idea Directory reduce transaction costs of new ideas?

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, agree almost completely, particularly your closing points.

My main quibble is the comparison of talent vs ideas as a bottleneck, where you say talent is 80% of the problem compared to ideas at 20%. I certainly agree that lots of weak ideas pose problems, but the trouble with with this comparison is that the first step to recruiting more talent will be an idea. So, in a sense, the talent gap IS an idea gap. In fact, aside from blind luck, every improvement on what we have will first be an idea. Perhaps we shouldn't think of ideas in opposition to anything, but instead work to maximize them (and keep the bad ones out of the way). Every gap has an idea component, essentially waiting for a better idea for how to close it.

Additionally, having high-yield, impactful ideas on hand that will make a difference could attract talent that might otherwise see EA as a bunch of airy headed idealists. Finally, if talent rather than ideas is the true bottleneck, then it's all the more important to make sure talent gets connected with the best ideas.

Minor point- Regarding weak ideas, I think there is some value for people to see (a) what makes bad ideas bad and (b) whether or not a particular idea has already been floated, thereby cutting down on redundancy.

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