Emergent Ventures grant recipients, the first cohort

Here is the first round of winners of the new Emergent Ventures initiative at Mercatus, led by me.  The list is ordered roughly in the order grants were made, and reflects no other prioritization.  All project descriptions are mine alone and should not be considered literal attributions of intent to the project applicants.  Here goes:

Anonymous grant for writing in Eastern Europe.

Pledged grant to San Francisco’s Topos House, conditional on finding a “social science prodigy” to live in the house for a while and interact with the other Topos fellows.  Topos is a San Francisco house where several tech prodigies live and periodically seminars and larger group interactions are held there or connected to the house.

Travel grant made to 18-year-old economics prodigy, to travel to San Francisco to meet with members of the “rationality community.”  The hope is to boost her career trajectory.

Grant to support the work of Mark Lutter and his Center for Innovative Governance Research, on charter cities and also an attempt to create a new charter city.

Grant to Harshita Arora to help her pursue work in brain science, including brain-computer interfaces to help disabled people manipulate and move objects.  Harshita is a 17-year-old Indian prodigy, who first received attention for her programming work in the app space.  Harshita made her bio and proposal public: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j5Zf2RIiKVUUZzJb6qGQdx2WmG7q4NS9/view

Leonard Bogdonoff has a project to scrape Instagram and create a searchable concordance of street art around the world.  His website is here and his blog is medium.com/@rememberlenny.  One use of this project is to amplify the voice of “protest art” against the constraints of censorship from autocratic governments, but it is also a new way to glean usable information from Instagram.

Travel and conference grant to Juan Pablo Villarino, from Argentina, sometimes called “the world’s greatest hitchhiker.”

Ben Southwood, public intellectual from England, support for his writing and research on why progress in science has slowed down.

Eric Lofgren has worked at the Pentagon for seven years and now will spend a year at Mercatus/George Mason to develop the skills, including blogging and podcasting, to become the nation’s leading public intellectual on defense procurement.

A two-year pledge to Gaurav Venkataraman, at University College of London, to support his doctoral work on the idea of RNA-based memory.  This research also has exciting implications for the design of artificial intelligence.

Joy Buchanan, economist, a grant to conduct research on why people become entrepreneurs and initiate start-ups, using the methods of experimental economics.

Michael Sonnenschein, Masters student at MIT in development economics (and a television screenwriter) a grant for research to reform and improve the Haitian lottery system, and turn it into a means to combat poverty.

Stefan Roots is writing and editing an on-line and also paper newspaper to cover local news in Chester, Pennsylvania, aimed at the African-American community.

Jeffrey Clemens, professor at UC San Diego, a grant to help him develop his on-line writing in economics.

Kelly Smith has a project to further extend and organize a parent-run charter school system in Arizona, Prenda, using Uber-like coordinating apps and “minimalist” educational methods.

David Perell, to encourage and support his work in podcasting and social media.

We are in the midst of processing several other awards as well, so do not worry if you are not yet mentioned.

I am delighted to welcome this very prestigious and accomplished “entering class” of Emergent Ventures fellows.  If you are considering applying, please note that we are interested in other topics and methods as well.


Nice. @Ben Southwood- if you're reading this, don't drink the anti-patent Kool Aid (TM). Consider a better US patent system that:

(1) like copyrights, has just a registration and no examination, will make it easier to file, and filing and examination, like in copyright, only happens before litigation;
(2) recognizes 'moral rights' in patents (Google the Japan blue LED litigation)
(3) allows for Alex Taberrok style prizes;
(4) recognizes independent creation as a defense ('not invented here' is a defense, if honest)
(5) has several degrees of protection; if you want a 'super strong' patent you must apply for a very rigorous, several week examination, not several hours (or even minutes!) as now, no 'presumption of validity' in a patent, which is how patent trolls make their money (it takes about $100k to knock out a clearly invalid patent, so many companies rather pay than fight) ;
(6) bring back patent models for some inventions (see also #7 below);
(7) allow for both a 'paper patent' (constructive reduction to practice) AND a separate patent, to another party, for an actual reduction to practice (making the paper patent work). It's a big deal.
(8) extend the term of drug patents automatically for FDA delays
(9) set up a German style "rocket docket" to hear patent litigation, streamlined, court fees subsidized for small entities, and a UK style "plaintiff pays defendant court costs if plaintiff loses".

I got other ideas but this is enough for now. You'll be first in the world (outside of a few patent people writing articles and informal discussion) if you discuss the above in a public forum. Do it and remember the Solow equation for growth! Patents are what drives GDP in the long run.

Just to be clear: proposal #1 allows for a 'common law' patent, that you get automatically, like in copyrights already, and you only secure this common law right by filing with the federal government (just like in copyrights now). Will gut the patent bar but it's OK, will make getting a patent easier. I've seen many an inventor lose their invention due to restrictive laws on the books now like you must file within a year of any public sale, public mention or public use of your invention. Very unfair.

...have you no sense of decency, sir!?

As the midterms show, Donald Trump once again continues his win streak! He will never get tired of winning and making America great!

Both links on the description of Leonard Bogdanoff are off. The second one even looks a bit phishy.

They worked fine for me just now. The second is to his blog on the Medium platform.

Please feel free to reach out if any of the links don’t work!

One of the primary drivers for this project is looking at how machine learning to analyze images. I’ll be building a series of small projects that will vary in size.

Below are six practical aims for applying these techniques.

1. Recognize artists

Publicly labeled street art can be used to identify who painted a photographed mural.

2. Track influences

Analyzing images around the world can help track where certain styles emerge and how they are adopted.

3. Geolocalize images

Images without any metadata can be correlated to geographic data based on visual landmarks.

4. Categorize styles

Computer vision encoding techniques can extract image features and generate visually objective categories.

5. Correlate social phenomena

The content or subject of street art murals and tags embody social phenomena in an impermanent medium. Digital documentation can provide a retroactive look at these historical moments.

6. Find new art

Monitoring newly posted images online can help detect when a new painting has been photographed in an area.

"support for his writing and research on why progress in science has slowed down": because science has become more like a nationalised industry.

Haiti's lottery: When Florida adopted its lottery many years ago, it was sold to the voters (it had to be approved by a vote) as a way to support education. What happened is that the legislature offset funding for education by the amount of profits from the lottery, shifting funding for education to those who are most likely to buy lottery tickets. It was a scam. The former head of the education department in the state, who had been a leading supporter of the lottery, later acknowledged the scam. That's the kind of corruption that deserves greater attention. Haiti, I suppose, is different. It's a poor country, and the lottery may be the only way to effectively raise revenues for education. But I'm not so sure it offers a good lesson for the poor people in Haiti who will buy the lottery tickets.

Some people claim that academics are just self-credentialling conformists and that academic research and reputation is increasingly unmoored from reality (e.g. the blockchain professors).

The next time I meet people like that, I will show them this list and see whether it confirms or disconfirms their claims.

A worthwhile venture. Some will be business as usual of course, but this seems like a solid attempt to give grants for a wide range of proposals. Many are perhaps the usual ones congenial to Mercatus, while others seem innovative and supportive of new ideas. If even one out of ten get to do something that would not otherwise have been supported or improve substantially at the margin, it would be a good payoff.

I don't think it'll end well for the 18 year old economics prodigy. The rationalist community in the bay area is well known for being full of creeps and red pillers.

can you imagine a worse place for an eager 18-year old "economics prodigy" (what does this even mean?) than being surrounded by arrogant engineers who think that intelligence is being able to write 20 paragraphs?

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