World After Capital: Getting Past Capital (Attention)

NOTE: Today’s excerpt from World After Capital is about attention. It argues why attention is scarce in the sense of scarcity introduced earlier in the book. This section sets up the demands on attention and then talks about scarcity of attention for the individual (next time will look at scarcity of attention for society as a whole).

Attention

There is a limited amount of human attention in the world. We have 24 hours in the day and we need to spend some of that time eating and sleeping. For many people in the world much of their waking time is occupied by the job loop (both the earning and the spending parts). That leaves relatively little time for attention that we can freely allocate. This hard limit also exists in the aggregate, since—as I have argued earlier—we are headed for peak population.

At the same time that our attention is

Continue reading "World After Capital: Getting Past Capital (Attention)"

Uncertainty Wednesday: Updating (Intro)

Now that we have spent the last few Uncertainty Wednesdays on modeling beliefs as probability distributions, we can now get to the topic of updating. Updating is what we are supposed to do with our beliefs when we have new observations. We first encountered a similar idea in the extensive example of a cancer test which we used to derive Bayes’ theorem.

In that post I wrote that “[Bayes’ theorem] relates the probability of the world being in state B *before* we have observed a signal to the probability *after* we have observed signal H.” Now in that quote and in the example we used probabilities and not probability distributions. We had found the following formula, which is known as Bayes’ rule:

P(B | H) = [P(H | B) / P(H)] * P(B)

As a reminder P(B) is the probability of event B before we have observed Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: Updating (Intro)"

World After Capital: Getting Past Capital (Labor)

NOTE: Today’s excerpt from World After Capital is about labor. In it I describe what I call the “job loop” and how it has become central to both the economy and sadly also our view of human dignity.

Labor

Before we can get to attention, though, we need to discuss the changing role of labor in the economy. Thinking about labor is hard because of an odd interweaving of cultural beliefs with economic history that I will try to disentangle. Over the last couple hundred years we have convinced ourselves that employment is essential both for the functioning of the economy and for individual dignity.

Let’s start from the perspective of production. If you want to make products or deliver a service you require a series of inputs, including buildings and machines (capital), raw materials or parts (supplies) and, historically, human workers (labor). For much of history, capital and labor turned

Continue reading "World After Capital: Getting Past Capital (Labor)"

Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs (Part 3)

Today’s Uncertainty Wednesday is a quick wrap up to the formalization of beliefs as probability distributions. Let’s first start with a simple question. What probability distribution reflects the least knowledge about a coin? How do you express “I don’t know, the coin could be anything from only heads to only tails to anything in between”? The answer is a uniform distribution as shown here:

image

The horizontal axis is the probability of the coin coming up heads – ranging from 0 to 1 and the vertical axis is what exactly? Well this depends on whether you paid attention to last week’s explanation of probability density functions (pdf) versus cumulative distribution functions (cdf). Which one is this?

Well it is a pdf, to be precise it is the pdf a uniform distribution over the interval [0, 1], which means that the vertical axis helps us measure the probability over any (sub)interval of the Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs (Part 3)"

World After Capital: Getting Past Capital

NOTE: Today’s excerpt from my book World After Capital deals with how we have achieved the sufficiency of physical capital. This is capitalisms greatest accomplishment, but also means that we are now facing a new scarcity: attention.

Capital

The title of the book is World after Capital. One of my fundamental claims is that capital is no longer scarce. There is enough capital in the world to meet everyone’s basic needs. That means meeting the individual needs of 7 billion or more people, the collective needs of the societies they live in and the collective needs of humanity at large. Using the language introduced earlier, capital is sufficient. And because population growth is decelerating, while technological progress is accelerating (due to digital technology), capital will no longer be the binding constraint for humanity going forward.

It is tempting to look at this in terms of financial capital, but that again Continue reading "World After Capital: Getting Past Capital"

Skin in the Game by Nassim Taleb (Book Review)

I recently finished Nassim Taleb’s latest book “Skin in the Game.” Much like Antifragile previously, I highly recommend reading it. The subtitle of the book is “Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life” and while I am not a fan of the obsession of publishers to add a subtitle to every non-fiction book (try finding one without), asymmetries are the leitmotif that runs throughout, including a wonderfully succinct table on “Asymmetries in Society.”

The book is in the classical philosophical tradition of lessons that one can actually apply to one’s own life, ranging from how to pick a surgeon to how to maximize one’s freedom to act. Taleb is at his best when he ties together mathematical analysis with observations about present day society and then relates it all back to a long history of thought and the evolution of language. There are many chapters in the book, including one Continue reading "Skin in the Game by Nassim Taleb (Book Review)"

Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs (Cont’d)

Last Uncertainty Wednesday, I introduced the idea of beliefs. Today we will make this idea more precise. We started with an extreme belief, the one that a coin is so biased that we will only observe “heads” (H). More realistically one might belief that a coin is fair, but has some possibility of being slightly biased in either direction (e.g., more likely to observer H or more likely to observe T).

So how do we formalize this? A belief is simply a probability distribution. For instance the one we just described might be modeled as follows where the horizontal axis shows the values of p from 0 to 1 (where p is the probability of observing Heads)

image

This is a distribution with a mean at p = 0.5 where the probability decreases to 0 on either extreme (meaning at p = 0 and at p = 1).

image
image
Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs (Cont’d)"

World After Capital: Getting Past Capital (Overview, Population)

NOTE: As every Monday, I am continuing to post excerpts from my book World After Capital. Today, starts Part Two of the book, which is title “Getting Past Capital” with an overview and a section on population growth dynamics.

Part Two: Getting Past Capital

Digital technology is shifting scarcity from capital to attention. That is one of the central arguments of World After Capital. With the philosophical foundation out of the way now is the time to back this claim up with some numbers.

First I will examine trends in population growth to show that fears of a further population explosion are unfounded. Then I will look at how much productive capital exists in the world relative to the basic needs of humanity. While that section still needs work, it already contains interesting statistics that suggest we have sufficient capital.

Besides capital, the other critical input to production in the Industrial

Continue reading "World After Capital: Getting Past Capital (Overview, Population)"

Trump, Irrationality and Game Theory

I have been openly critical of Trump as a president going back to before the election. While I want radical change I do not believe the price for this ought to be going backwards on foundational issues such as the rule of law, press freedom and science. Nonetheless it has been fascinating to observe how Trump’s potential or actual irrationality has opened the door for progress on some issues that were previously deemed intractable, such as North Korea.

It is well known that even in relative simple games, such as repeated prisoner’s dilemma the set of sustainable equilibria grows significantly when there is some possibility of at least one of the actors being irrational (some of the time). In this regard, Trump is a stark contrast to his predecessors such as Obama, Clinton and the Bushes who cultivated an image of themselves as rational actors. For an opponent such as Continue reading "Trump, Irrationality and Game Theory"

Trump, Irrationality and Game Theory

I have been openly critical of Trump as a president going back to before the election. While I want radical change I do not believe the price for this ought to be going backwards on foundational issues such as the rule of law, press freedom and science. Nonetheless it has been fascinating to observe how Trump’s potential or actual irrationality has opened the door for progress on some issues that were previously deemed intractable, such as North Korea.

It is well known that even in relative simple games, such as repeated prisoner’s dilemma the set of sustainable equilibria grows significantly when there is some possibility of at least one of the actors being irrational (some of the time). In this regard, Trump is a stark contrast to his predecessors such as Obama, Clinton and the Bushes who cultivated an image of themselves as rational actors. For an opponent such as Continue reading "Trump, Irrationality and Game Theory"

Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs

The last few weeks in Uncertainty Wednesday we took a detailed look at the various problems with p-values. Now we will start to work towards an alternative approach based on Bayesian inference. Along the way though we have a chance to think about more foundational ideas, including the subjective versus objective and beliefs versus truths. Today we will start by looking at beliefs and how observations may influence those.

As before with p-values we will use coin flips as they are easy to follow (at least as long as cash hasn’t disappeared entirely). But as we do so, we should keep in mind that this simplicity is actually somewhat deceptive. There is an underlying system that produces the coin flip and the result of heads H or tails T are the resulting signals that we can observe. So when we say something like “I believe this is a fair coin” what Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs"

Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs

The last few weeks in Uncertainty Wednesday we took a detailed look at the various problems with p-values. Now we will start to work towards an alternative approach based on Bayesian inference. Along the way though we have a chance to think about more foundational ideas, including the subjective versus objective and beliefs versus truths. Today we will start by looking at beliefs and how observations may influence those.

As before with p-values we will use coin flips as they are easy to follow (at least as long as cash hasn’t disappeared entirely). But as we do so, we should keep in mind that this simplicity is actually somewhat deceptive. There is an underlying system that produces the coin flip and the result of heads H or tails T are the resulting signals that we can observe. So when we say something like “I believe this is a fair coin” what Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: Beliefs"

World After Capital: Laying a Foundation (Needs)

NOTE: This is the last post for the foundations section from my book World After Capital. In it I propose a catalog of basic human needs. As set out earlier much of today’s confusion around scarcity results from our willful conflagration of needs and wants.

Needs

The definition of scarcity that I just introduced is based on the notion of needs. To argue that there is a shift in scarcity from capital to attention thus requires an agreed upon set of needs to show that we indeed have sufficient capital. Can we make progress in defining what constitutes a set of basic human needs?

I am not proposing that this is a simple task. What follows should be considered a way of starting a dialogue. A list of basic needs is a piece of knowledge. As such it can be improved over time through the process of critical inquiry. You Continue reading "World After Capital: Laying a Foundation (Needs)"

World After Capital: Laying a Foundation (Needs)

NOTE: This is the last post for the foundations section from my book World After Capital. In it I propose a catalog of basic human needs. As set out earlier much of today’s confusion around scarcity results from our willful conflagration of needs and wants.

Needs

The definition of scarcity that I just introduced is based on the notion of needs. To argue that there is a shift in scarcity from capital to attention thus requires an agreed upon set of needs to show that we indeed have sufficient capital. Can we make progress in defining what constitutes a set of basic human needs?

I am not proposing that this is a simple task. What follows should be considered a way of starting a dialogue. A list of basic needs is a piece of knowledge. As such it can be improved over time through the process of critical inquiry. You Continue reading "World After Capital: Laying a Foundation (Needs)"

An Alternative to Mandatory APIs: Let Me “Hack Myself”

I recently wrote a post about requiring APIs for social and other applications that have more then 1 million users. Now that is an approach to the problem of market power that adds new regulations. There is an alternative that would go the route of removing existing laws which I want to discuss today.

What prevents someone today from creating their own programmatic control over services? Why can’t I simply write code that interfaces on my behalf with say Facebook? After all, Facebook’s own app uses an API to talk to Facebook. Well in order to do so I would have to “hack” the existing Facebook app in order to figure out what the API calls are and also how to authenticate myself to those calls. Unfortunately, there are laws on the books that make those necessary steps illegal. 

The first is the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA. The Continue reading "An Alternative to Mandatory APIs: Let Me “Hack Myself”"

An Alternative to Mandatory APIs: Let Me “Hack Myself”

I recently wrote a post about requiring APIs for social and other applications that have more then 1 million users. Now that is an approach to the problem of market power that adds new regulations. There is an alternative that would go the route of removing existing laws which I want to discuss today.

What prevents someone today from creating their own programmatic control over services? Why can’t I simply write code that interfaces on my behalf with say Facebook? After all, Facebook’s own app uses an API to talk to Facebook. Well in order to do so I would have to “hack” the existing Facebook app in order to figure out what the API calls are and also how to authenticate myself to those calls. Unfortunately, there are laws on the books that make those necessary steps illegal. 

The first is the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA. The Continue reading "An Alternative to Mandatory APIs: Let Me “Hack Myself”"

An Alternative to Mandatory APIs: Let Me “Hack Myself”

I recently wrote a post about requiring APIs for social and other applications that have more then 1 million users. Now that is an approach to the problem of market power that adds new regulations. There is an alternative that would go the route of removing existing laws which I want to discuss today.

What prevents someone today from creating their own programmatic control over services? Why can’t I simply write code that interfaces on my behalf with say Facebook? After all, Facebook’s own app uses an API to talk to Facebook. Well in order to do so I would have to “hack” the existing Facebook app in order to figure out what the API calls are and also how to authenticate myself to those calls. Unfortunately, there are laws on the books that make those necessary steps illegal. 

The first is the anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA. The Continue reading "An Alternative to Mandatory APIs: Let Me “Hack Myself”"

Uncertainty Wednesday: The Problem with P-Values (Learning)

Today’s Uncertainty Wednesday will be the concluding post in my mini-series on the problem with p-values. We have already seen that it is much easier than expected to reject a null hypothesis if you have incentives to do so. We also saw that the ability to work backwards and generate hypotheses from the data is a big issue. Today we will consider a more foundational, epistemological problem with p-values: what is it that we are really learning when we are rejecting a null hypothesis?

Let’s once again consider the original example of a coin toss where our null hypothesis is that the coin is fair (and independent). We have done everything by the book. We had our null hypothesis ahead of time (not generated from the data). We did exactly 6 tosses and they all came up as heads (or tails for that matter), instead of cheating on our data Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: The Problem with P-Values (Learning)"

Uncertainty Wednesday: The Problem with P-Values (Learning)

Today’s Uncertainty Wednesday will be the concluding post in my mini-series on the problem with p-values. We have already seen that it is much easier than expected to reject a null hypothesis if you have incentives to do so. We also saw that the ability to work backwards and generate hypotheses from the data is a big issue. Today we will consider a more foundational, epistemological problem with p-values: what is it that we are really learning when we are rejecting a null hypothesis?

Let’s once again consider the original example of a coin toss where our null hypothesis is that the coin is fair (and independent). We have done everything by the book. We had our null hypothesis ahead of time (not generated from the data). We did exactly 6 tosses and they all came up as heads (or tails for that matter), instead of cheating on our data Continue reading "Uncertainty Wednesday: The Problem with P-Values (Learning)"