Overcoming Bias

This is a blog on why we believe and do what we do, why we pretend otherwise, how we might do better, and what our descendants might do, if they don't all die.

Latest articles

Honest Putdowns

What do people want? Surely one thing they want is to not be insulted or put down by others. Yet if you ask people what personal features they most aspire to improve, the features they pick have no correlation with the features used in the putdowns around them! Yet putdown features have strong correlations with the features used in praise, and with...

Specialized Innovation Is Easier

Consider a few things we know about task specialization and innovation: Larger cities and larger firms both have both more specialization and more (i.e., faster) innovation. More global industries also have both more specialization and innovation. And across the great eras of human history (animal, forager, farmer, industry), each era has brought more...

Time Reversal In Tenet

The mew movie Tenet shows plenty of eye-candy action and charismatic characters, though it didn’t really make me care much emotionally about its characters or their problems. The movie did, however, scratch my big physics idea itch. So I’m going to talk a bit about the movie’s key physics premise. I’ll give spoilers; you are warned.First the movie’s...

Our Brave New Merged World

AGI isn’t coming in the next thirty years. Neither are Moon or Mars colonies, or starships. Or immortality. Cities won’t be flooded due to CO2, a nuclear war won’t devastate civilization, aliens won’t arrive in the skies, and a religious jihad won’t remake culture. The rates of change in the economy, lifespans, fertility, automation, and non-carbon...

Remote Work Is Teleportation Lite

The division of labour is limited by the extent of the market. Adam Smith Adam Smith gave the famous example of pins. He asserted that ten workers could produce 48,000 pins per day if each of eighteen specialized tasks was assigned to particular workers. Average productivity: 4,800 pins per worker per day. But absent the division of labor, a worker...

Common Econ Critiques

Consider this critique of physics: Once upon a time the universe was full of magic, mystery, and majesty, wherein humans lived organically and intuitively with nature. But then physicists (and their engineering minions) pretended to know far more than humans can ever know in an irreducibly complex universe. And they pretended to far more objectivity...

How To Pick A Quack

How do we pick, or think we should pick, our experts? One clue comes from “How to pick an X” web guides. For 18 types of experts X, I searched for that phrase, and read the top 8 Google hits, noting all of the types of info clues mentioned in each guide. Here is the full table of results. Here are the 25 most common clue types, sorted by the % of these...

Russell’s Human Compatible

My school turned back on its mail system as we start a new semester, and a few days ago out popped Stuart Russell’s book Human Compatible (published last Oct.), with a note inside dated March 31. Here’s my review, a bit late as a result.Let me focus first on what I see as its core thesis, and then discuss less central claims.Russell seems to say that...

Lognormal Priorities

In many polls on continuous variables over the last year, I’ve seen lognormal distributions typically fit poll responses well. And of course lognormals are also one of the most common distributions in nature. So let’s consider the possibility that, regarding problem areas like global warming, falling fertility, or nuclear war, distributions of priority...

Sim Argument Confidence

Nick Bostrom once argued that you must choose between three options re the possibility that you are now actually living in and experiencing a simulation created by future folks to explore their past: (A) its true, you are most likely a sim person living in a sim, either of this sort or another, (B) future folk will never be able to do this, because...

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