Category: Web/Tech

My Conversation with the excellent Daniel Gross

This is Daniel Gross my co-author on Talent and the venture capitalist, to be clear.  And here is the audio and transcript.  Of course we focus on talent and also:

They also explore the question of why so many high achievers love Diet Coke, why you should ask candidates if they have any good conspiracy theories, how to spot effective dark horses early, the hiring strategy that set SpaceX apart, what to look for in a talent identifier, what you can learn from discussing drama, the underrated genius of game designers, why Tyler has begun to value parents more and IQ less, conscientiousness as a mixed blessing, the importance of value hierarchies, how to become more charismatic, the allure of endurance sports for highly successful people, what they disagree on most, and more.

Excerpt:

GROSS: Well, take a step back. Why are we even here? And why would I even have a shred of an interesting opinion on talent? To the extent that I do, I think it’s because in the venture business — much more so than, I think, almost any other business — you live in constant paranoia of missing out on great talent. You might say, “Well, that’s true in every company.” And it’s true at the Met when you’re looking for someone to play in the orchestra, too. But in the venture business, unlike others, great talent always looks very weird to whatever convention is.

Before Mark Zuckerberg came along, that phenotype of the hoodie sweatshirt and slightly aspie kid was not the common phenotype. Now, of course, there was a phase — 2013, 2014, 2015 — where everyone started looking for that. But then it hit you again with a very weird-looking person, where Vitalik [Buterin] is of a completely different ilk than Zuck. One very much is Julius Caesar, and I think another one — I don’t exactly know how you’d bucket Vitalik — maybe like an early pope.

COWEN: Like a Russian holy saint.

GROSS: Exactly. By the way, not just the person is weirder than whatever the conventional norm is, but the idea is weird, too.

Interesting throughout!

Remote work and home prices

What explains record U.S. house price growth since late 2019? We show that the shift to remote work explains over one half of the 23.8 percent national house price increase over this period. Using variation in remote work exposure across U.S. metropolitan areas we estimate that an additional percentage point of remote work causes a 0.93 percent increase in house prices after controlling for negative spillovers from migration. This cross-sectional estimate combined with the aggregate shift to remote work implies that remote work raised aggregate U.S. house prices by 15.1 percent.

Here is more from John A. Mondragon and Johannes Wieland.

What is the best interview question of all time?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, also picked by the WaPo.  Excerpts:

What are the open tabs in your browser right now?

…First, the question measures what a person does with his or her spare time as well as work time. If you leave a browser tab open, it probably has some importance to you and you expect to return to the page. It is one metric of what you are interested in and what your work flow looks like.

It’s not just cheap talk. Some job candidates might say they are interested in C++ as a programming language, but if you actually have an open page to the Reddit and Subreddits on that topic, that is a demonstrated preference…

The question also tests for enthusiasm. If the person doesn’t seem excited about any of those open browser tabs, that may be a sign that they are blasé about other things as well. But if you get a heated pitch about why a particular website is the best guide to “Lord of the Rings” lore, you may have found a true nerd with a love of detail. That will be a plus for many jobs and avocations, though not all.

There is much more at the link, and to consider some other competing questions, do see my new book with Daniel Gross Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World, publication date is today!

And do note that this particular question comes from Daniel.

How to make talent scouts work for you

With Daniel Gross, here is a (very much) shortened bit from Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creators, and Winners Around the World, published at a16z, excerpt from the chapter on when to use talent scouts:

It is worth thinking about why the scouting model works in this context [finding supermodels]. First, the relevant talent could come from many different parts of the world, and the number of people to be scouted is very large. It is hard to imagine a centralized process getting the job done. Second, many of the scouts plausibly have a decent sense of who might make a good model. Looks are hardly the only factor behind modeling success, but they are a kind of “first stop,” and expecting the scouts to judge looks well from first impressions is more plausible than expecting the scouts to use first impressions to judge talent well for skill in, say, quantum mechanics. Third, a follow-up investigation to judge the modeling talent of the chosen candidates is not extremely costly. You can have them in for a photo shoot and see how popular they prove in the market without having to invest millions of dollars right away…

Scouting is also becoming more important as the options for self-education are rising. With more people trying their hand at various avocations than ever before, that places more and more burden on talent search. We need to be more open to the accomplishments of self-taught individuals without traditional training, and that holds all the more true for the tech world, where many of the most important founders have eschewed the institutions of traditional education.

There is much more at the link, we also consider when scouting models fail relative to centralized evaluation, and which kinds of incentives should be given to scouts.

Saudi fact of the day

Saudi Aramco has overtaken Apple as the world’s most valuable company after higher oil prices pushed shares of the world’s biggest crude exporter to record levels while a broader tech stock sell-off weighed on the iPhone maker.

The Saudi Arabian oil company’s market capitalisation on Wednesday was $2.426tn, exceeding Apple’s $2.415tn by just over $10bn. It is the first time that Saudi Aramco has regained the top spot since 2020 and follows a broader sell-off in technology stocks since the start of the year.

Apple became the first company to hit a $3tn market cap in early January, although its shares have suffered in recent months as investors reassess lofty valuations in the tech sector in light of a reversal in monetary policy and worries that inflation will weaken consumers’ spending habits.

Here is more from the FT.  It will be interesting to see what a world with higher real interest rates looks like…

GDPR and the Lost Generation of Innovative Apps

Using data on 4.1 million apps at the Google Play Store from 2016 to 2019, we document that GDPR induced the exit of about a third of available apps; and in the quarters following implementation, entry of new apps fell by half. We estimate a structural model of demand and entry in the app market. Comparing long-run equilibria with and without GDPR, we find that GDPR reduces consumer surplus and aggregate app usage by about a third. Whatever the privacy benefits of GDPR, they come at substantial costs in foregone innovation.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Rebecca Janßen, Reinhold Kesler, Michael E. Kummer & Joel Waldfogel.

The equilibrium, a continuing series

Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the Federal Trade Commission has consistently ranked in the top five for staff satisfaction among medium-size government agencies, according to annual government surveys. But that changed in 2021, the year Lina Khan, a favorite of progressives, took the helm with plans to overhaul how the antitrust agency operates and turn it into a more aggressive bulwark against corporate consolidation, especially in the tech sector.

In the government’s November survey of the 1,100-person FTC, about half of whom responded, 53% of employees said senior leaders “maintain high standards of honesty and integrity,” down from 87% in 2020. And 49% of respondents had a “high level of respect” for senior leaders, down from 83% in 2020. Overall satisfaction with the agency dropped by a third, to 60% from 89%.

The “overall trends are not where we want them to be,” Khan said…

Here is the full piece. You may recall I predicted this from the beginning…

Toward a simple theory of why tech employees are so left-leaning

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is part of the explanation:

Another hypothesis concerns meritocracy. The top tech companies are very meritocratic in that they try to hire the very best programmers, engineers and managers, if only because so much money is at stake and these companies are sufficiently profitable that they can afford top talent.

Yet a meritocracy of intellect does not itself constitute a corporate culture or common set of values for employees. A series of meritocratic hires will come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures; it’s not as if they all went to Eton together. Those meritocratic hires thus may want some additional layer of shared culture — and the enterprise of tech, so often based on the manipulation of abstract symbols, does not provide it.

Wokeism does. In fact, this semi-religious function of woke ideology may help explain what many people perceive as the preachy or religious undertones to woke discourse.

You might wonder why this shared culture is left-wing rather than right-wing. Well, given educational polarization in the U.S., and that major tech companies are usually located in blue states, it is much easier for a left-leaning common culture to evolve. But the need for common cultural norms reinforces and strengthens what may have initially been a mildly left-leaning set of impulses.

Developing such a common culture is especially important in tech companies, which rely heavily on cooperation. The profitability of a major tech company typically is based not on ownership of unique physical assets, but on the ability of its workers to turn ideas into products. So internal culture will have to be fairly strong — and may tend to strengthen forces that intensify modest ideological proclivities into more extreme belief systems…

Further pieces of the puzzle are explained in the column.

My YouTube viewing habits

Abe emails me:

Tyler, I really enjoyed your recent podcast with Russ Roberts talking about favorite books and reading strategies. On the podcast, you mentioned YouTube a couple of times. I was hoping Russ would ask you about your YouTube habits, but he didn’t, so I thought I’d email to ask. What type of things do you watch on YouTube? Do you have any favorite channels or strategies for finding good content? I think it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the subject.

My habits here are primitive, and not recommended for most of you sophisticates, but here goes:

1. I don’t subscribe to YouTube channels.

2. I watch some reasonable percentage, at least in part, of what people send me.

3. I watch prospective guests for CWT, to experience their conversational rhythms and mannerisms and “tics.”

4. I listen to music, especially when I am traveling, mostly classical music recitals or “world music,” to use a much-abused phrase.  For many “world musics,” the visual element is all-important.  I love Led Zeppelin, but I don’t click on them in this medium.  Piano and guitar recitals I enjoy much more than orchestral music, at least on YouTube.

5. Sometimes I watch videos on science, or occasionally econometrics.  It is often the best way to learn new concepts in these areas.

6. I watch Magnus Carlsen play BanterBlitz and engage in related chessboard antics in other forums, mostly while I am exercising on the Peloton.  If you understand chess reasonably well, he is one of the greatest entertainers of our time, in addition to being the best chessplayer ever.

7. I don’t listen on speeds other than 1x.  Doing so would disrupt the purposes mentioned above!  If I am just trying to absorb information rapidly, typically I would prefer a book.  The information from #5 usually is difficult enough for me to stick with 1x.  If it is just someone blabbing, typically I care about the true human rhythms of speech, or I just won’t do it.

What else?

Emergent Ventures winners, 19th cohort

Avi Schiffman, Harvard University. a second award to Avi, for his Ukraine Take Shelter project.

Carol Vieria de Magelhaes, Brazil and Northwestern University, to support a visiting research internship at Harvard Medical School.

BioDojo House, “A 3 month long co-living community in the Boston/Cambridge area from June-Aug, hosting 6-10 next generation builders & young emerging scientists between 18-25 years old.”

Serene Han, a free speech project, to expand Tor/Snowflake for Russian and other access to the uncensored internet.

Hector Alberto Diaz Gomez, Peru, Amazonas, general career development and travel, and for research into multilingual search engines.

Louise Perry and Fiona Mackenzie, London area, The Other Half, “a feminist think tank with a post-liberal agenda.”

Bridget Pegg, St. Louis and Mizzou, for general career development, and intellectual and policy outreach for Missouri and the broader Midwest.

Marius Hobbhahn, Tübingen, AI safety and for writings on many other topics as well.

Zeel Patel, Harvard and Broad Institute of MIT, applying machine learning to health care through AI.

Dwarkesh Patel, Austin, podcasting and general career support.

Tim Farrelly, Dublin, working on AI and vision issues and for general career development and conference travel.

Yang Zheng, North Hollywood, a project to crowdsource AI problems.

Ben Smith, University of Oregon, from New Zealand.  For his project on “multi-objective reinforcement learning with an exponential-log function.”

Paulina M Paiz, San Francisco/Toronto, travel grant to attend scientific conferences, and to continue with her work using DeepChem.

Congratulations!

What drives people to extremist YouTube videos?

There is a new and very interesting paper on this topic by Annie Y. Chen, Brendan Nyhan, Jason Reifler, Ronald E. Robertson and Christo Wilson.  Here is the abstract:

Do online platforms facilitate the consumption of potentially harmful content? Despite widespread concerns that YouTube’s algorithms send people down “rabbit holes” with recommendations to extremist videos, little systematic evidence exists to support this conjecture. Using paired behavioral and survey data provided by participants recruited from a representative sample (n=1,181), we show that exposure to alternative and extremist channel videos on YouTube is heavily concentrated among a small group of people with high prior levels of gender and racial resentment. These viewers typically subscribe to these channels (causing YouTube to recommend their videos more often) and often follow external links to them. Contrary to the “rabbit holes” narrative, non-subscribers are rarely recommended videos from alternative and extremist channels and seldom follow such recommendations when offered.

I am traveling and have not had the chance to read this paper, but I do know the authors are very able.  I am not saying this is the final word, but I would make the following observation: there are many claims made about social media, and many of them might be true, but for the most part they are still largely unfounded.

Those now-automated service sector jobs?

Arshia Khan asked a group of older adults in Minnesota what they would like in a nursing home, and their answer surprised her. They wanted standup comedy, but not just any comedy: They wanted off-color jokes.

Dr. Khan, a professor of computer science at the University of Minnesota Duluth, programs robots to work in nursing homes.

On a March afternoon in her lab, surrounded by a dozen robots of different sizes and designs, Dr. Khan asked one to show off its stuff. The robot, a four-foot-tall white plastic figure named Pepper, with a tablet screen in its chest, blinked its eyes and wiggled its hips.

“So, which one of you requested the dirty jokes?” Pepper asked, in a computer voice.

There followed a risqué joke about the robot’s relationship with its charging plug, and another about an unhappy date with a Tesla (too conceited). After each, the robot giggled. “I went on a date with a Roomba last week,” the robot said, gesticulating with its arms. Pause. “It totally sucked.”

But alas:

Later this year, pending approval from the university’s institutional review board, 16 of Dr. Khan’s robots will go to eight nursing homes around the state — though without the off-color jokes.

Here is the full NYT story, via a loyal MR reader.