Book review: Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, by Paul Scharre.
Four Battlegrounds is often a thoughtful, competently written book on an important topic. It is likely the least pleasant, and most frustrating, book fitting that description that I have ever read.
The title’s battlegrounds refer to data, compute, talent, and institutions. Those seem like important resources that will influence military outcomes. But it seems odd to label them as battlegrounds. Wouldn’t resources be a better description?
Scharre knows enough about the US military that I didn’t detect flaws in his expertise there. He has learned enough about AI to avoid embarrassing mistakes. I.e. he managed to avoid claims that have been falsified by an AI during the time it took to publish the book.
Scharre has clear political biases. E.g.:
Conservative politicians have claimed for years – without evidence – that US tech firms have an anti-conservative bias.
(Reminder: The Phrase “No Evidence” Is A Red Flag For Bad Science Communication.) But he keeps those biases separate enough from his military analysis that I don’t find those biases to be a reason for not reading the book.
This week we saw two interesting bank collapses: Silvergate Capital Corporation, and SVB Financial Group.
This is a reminder that diversification is important.
The most basic problem in both cases is that they got money from a rather undiverse set of depositors, who experienced unusually large fluctuations in their deposits and withdrawals. They also made overly large bets on the safety of government bonds.
In 1986, Drexler predicted (in Engines of Creation) that we’d have molecular assemblers in 30 years. They would roughly act as fast, atomically precise 3-d printers. That was the standard meaning of nanotech for the next decade, until more mainstream authorities co-opted the term.
What went wrong with that forecast?
In my review of Where Is My Flying Car? I wrote:
Josh describes the mainstream reaction to nanotech fairly well, but that’s not the whole story. Why didn’t the military fund nanotech? Nanotech would likely exist today if we had credible fears of Al Qaeda researching it in 2001.
I recently changed my mind about that last sentence, partly because of what I recently read about the Manhattan Project, and partly due to the world’s response to COVID.
The ESG investing movement (environmental, social, and corporate governance) is becoming potentially important, potentially good, and potentially corrupt.
I’ll walk through some of the sources of influence on it.
Book review: The Resilient Society, by Markus Brunnermeier.
This is a collection of loosely related chapters on current political topics such as pandemic response and macroeconomics. I haven’t read the whole book. But since each chapter is designed to stand alone, I feel comfortable reviewing a subset of the book.
They’re more readable than the comparable Wikipedia pages, but less rigorous.
Book review: Shut Out: How a Housing Shortage Caused the Great Recession and Crippled Our Economy, by Kevin Erdmann.
Why did the US have an unusually bad recession in 2008, followed by years of disappointing growth?
Many influential people attribute it to the 2004-2006 housing bubble, and the ensuing subprime mortgage crisis, with an implication that people bought too many houses. Erdmann says: no, the main problems were due to obstacles which prevented the building and buying of houses.
He mainly argues against two competing narratives that are popular among economists:
- increased availability of credit fueled a buying binge among people who had trouble affording homes.
- there was a general and unusual increase in the demand for homes.
Reframing the Housing Bubble
Book review: The Cult of Smart, by Fredrik deBoer.
The Cult of Smart is a sporadically thoughtful book about education politics, sometimes rising above tribal politics, and sometimes repeating tired old tribal rants.
Last month, I conceded defeat in my bet (with Robin Hanson) that US COVID-19 deaths would be less than 250,000.
My biggest mistake was thinking voters would care about results, and unite against a common enemy as they did in WWII. I should have been more aware of the tendency to treat natural deaths as more acceptable than deaths due to a hostile agent. Robin clearly did better at evaluating this.
From The problem with rapid Covid testing, Mayank Gupta writes:
The absolute number of false positives would rise dramatically under slightly inaccurate, broad surveillance testing. At least initially, the number of people going to the doctor to ask what to do would also rise. One can imagine if doctors truly flubbed and didn’t know how to advise patients accurately, a lot of individual patients would lose trust in the medical system (testing, doctors, or both). The consequence of this would be more resistance to health public policy measures in the future.
For a reminder of why rapid testing is valuable, see Alex Tabarrok. Note also the evidence from the NBA that people who need useful tests can be more innovative than the medical system.
This seems like the tip of an important iceberg.
Lots of people want to frame the 2020 US election as a fight between the left and the right, with the wrong side being near an extreme on that spectrum. They are deceiving you.
The U.S. is facing some extremism, but it has little connection to the extremes of the left-right spectrum . The latest dangers are extreme mainly on a very different spectrum. A spectrum on which Trump and the woke are very similar.
How to describe this spectrum? I’m unsure what the best description is, so I’ll list some that capture important components of it: