Those are the topics of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
It turns out that chess is oddly well-suited for a high-tech world. Chess does not make for gripping television, but the option of live viewing online, supplemented by computer analysis or personal commentary, has driven a renaissance of the game.
For one thing, computer evaluations have made watching more intelligible. Even if you barely understand chess, you can quickly get a sense of the state of play with the frequently changing numerical evaluations (“+ 2.00,” for instance, means white has a decisive advantage, whereas “0.00” signals an even position). You also can see, with each move, whether the player will choose what the computer finds best.
In essence, some of the suspenseful stupidities of low-level video games have been infused into eggheady chess. You can indulge your inner Pac Man without feeling guilty about it.
At first it was thought that online viewers would favor rapid and blitz chess, which are (as you might expect) more fast-paced. In fact, the slower games, including contests of five hours or more, have not put viewers off. If you are sitting at your office desk, you might wish to glance at the position every few minutes or so. A slower game means you can do that without missing much of the action, and yet still most of your work will get done. If the game is heading to a climax, you can pay full attention for that short period.
Fortunately, the software programs that evaluate the games and players are not yet infallible. So if Stockfish (one such program) indicates that your favorite player is far behind, you can hold out a slim hope that the software is wrong. “Creating artificial suspense” is one of the killer apps of the internet.
There is much more, including a discussion of basketball and trash talking, do read the whole thing.
In November 1931 Churchill also published an article entitled ‘Fifty Years Hence’ in Maclean’s Magazine, in which he made some absurd predictions — that we would grow only those parts of chickens we wanted to eat, for example — but also some astonishingly accurate ones. ‘Wireless telephones and television…
Japanese hotels and banks are, by global standards, heavily overstaffed despite the country’s demographic crunch. Most supermarkets have not embraced the automated checkouts common elsewhere, nor airlines self-service check-ins. The offices of Japan’s small and medium-sized enterprises are among the most inefficient in the developed world, chides McKinsey, a management consultancy.
Japan has an elaborate service culture, which machines struggle to replicate. Japanese customers, especially the elderly, strongly prefer people to machines, says Yoko Takeda of Mitsubishi Research Institute, a think-tank. Employment practices make it difficult to replace workers. And while gimmicky robots abound, Japan struggles to develop the software and artificial intelligence needed to enable them to perform useful tasks, says a report by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the cockpit of Japan’s post-war miracle. So while the reception at the robot hotel is automated, seven human employees lurk out of sight to watch over customers and avoid glitches. Robots still cannot make beds, cook breakfast or deal with a drunken guest who will not pay his bill.
Here is more from The Economist.
Soon I will be doing a Conversation with recent Nobel Laureate Paul Romer, no associated public event. What should I ask him?
I thank you all in advance for your wise counsel.
COWEN: So you receive an offer to run Google. Why were you so skeptical about Google at first?
SCHMIDT: Well, I assumed that search wasn’t very important, and I assumed the ads didn’t work. I was so concerned about the ads that, after I accepted the offer — because it just seemed like it was interesting, and a lot of luck comes from doing things that are interesting, and sort of creating your own luck — I hauled the then–sales executive, whose name was Tim Armstrong, who you all know well, and I said, “Tim, prove to me that these ads work.”
So they showed me a set of ads, and they looked pretty foolish to me. So I said, “Well, let’s go find the finance person,” of which there was one, and the accounting system was done on QuickBooks. I said, “Prove to me that people are paying for these ads,” and they did.
We then did an ads conversion in the first year, which was called Project Drano, where we basically took three different ads databases, which were simple compared to today’s databases, and merged them into one. And I was terrified, absolutely terrified that the ruse that we had — because we had fixed pricing on our ads — that people would discover that our ads were not worth anything.
So I organized what I called the cash restriction period, where the only thing you could do if you wanted to spend money, is you could only spend money on Friday at 10 AM, and you had to come to me to justify it, which very much shuts down spending.
So we get to this conversion, we turn the thing over, and of course, we didn’t bother to build into the tools. We had no metrics. We didn’t know what was going on. I’m going, “Oh my God, the company is bankrupt. My first year, I’ve done a terrible job. What will the board think?” I did my best to notify everybody we were going to go kaput.
The auction produced a price that was three times higher than the previous prices. Very interesting. So much for the cash restriction period, and the rest is history.
And from Eric:
We did all sorts of things. My favorite example is that we would interview people to death. We interviewed this one gentleman sixteen times, and we couldn’t decide. So I picked a random number, which was half, and I said, “We should have a max of eight, and if we can’t decide after eight . . .” We’ve since done a statistical analysis, and the answer today is four to five interviews.
And here is my bit on Eric:
COWEN: Now early on, you were an intern at Bell Labs, and also PARC, which belonged to Xerox, and I think of those two institutions as stemming from earlier glory years of American science.
Is it fair to think of your career as in some sense, you’re the person who spans those two eras, the Bell Labs-PARC era of doing things, and then the tech era of manipulating information, and that your ability to bring expertise from those two areas together is what has made you a unique figure? Is that a fair assessment of how you fit into the picture?
And there is this bit:
COWEN: How did it influence you having a father who was a famous economist? He wrote on balance of payments crises. What did you draw from him? Did that have a role in using so much economics in Google?
SCHMIDT: Well, what’s interesting is, I asked my father, “If you’re such a good economist, why are we not rich?”
With the Internet, too much information leaks out about the failings of governments. Thus, they are unable to “rule by persuasion” and are increasingly reduced to relying on sheer force. As a provocative example, Gurri believes that the Chinese government now is more dependent on force than it would be without the Internet.
That is from Arnold Kling reviewing Martin Gurri’s forthcoming The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:
Now the time has come for crypto to go on a diet. No more easy money. No more thoughts about ICOs leading to quick riches. The rhetoric is shifting toward a more cautious or even apologetic tone. The corresponding reality can perhaps be one of greater focus and relevance.
We’re at the point where crypto finally has to prove its social worth. But what might that mean? Imagine using crypto as a medium of micropayments to pay for media on the internet. Or perhaps you’ll use the blockchain to verify your identity, rather than telling some stranger on the phone the last four digits of your Social Security number. Or how about a system for self-executing, zero-cost contracts? (For example: I will give $10,000 to a charity if 10 other people do.) Maybe the burgeoning field of virtual reality will rely on crypto to support some of its transactions, starting with virtual sex, which the major banks might stay away from. Alternatively, I might use crypto assets to send money to Mexico, avoiding the steep charges from current money transfer systems. In the more utopian visions, crypto leads to the rise of entirely self-governing systems, powered by the blockchain.
By the way, if you are confused by the terms “proof of stake” and “sharding” (and others), that is probably a good thing. As the tech guru Stewart Brand is reported to have said, the proliferation of terminology in crypto is a sign that new ideas and possibly important new technologies are afoot.
Just type in “Gulliver’s Travels,” and the first page will not show any editions you actually ought to buy. And there are so many sponsored ads for mediocre, copyright-less editions. If you type in “Gulliver’s Travels Penguin” you eventually will get to this, a plausible buy for the casual educated reader. And wouldn’t it be nice if someone told you the $156.31 Cambridge University Press edition is by far the best choice? — full of marginal annotations!
Also, I finally had a chance to meet Tyler Cowen and tell him that his blog played a bit part in how I ended up dating my now-wife. Back when we were messaging on OKCupid (to clarify: my wife and I were messaging; I have not contacted Tyler Cowen on OKC), I wanted to establish my Internet-nerd bona fides, so I mentioned that I’d been linked by a prominent economics blog. She mentioned that she had been linked by a very prominent economics blog. It was Marginal Revolution, both times. (Her post: on taking oneself seriously. My post is lost to history, but I believe it was about the causes and consequences of onion futures being illegal.)
Since Cowen is an expert on many topics, it should come as no surprise that he’s an export on MR lore, so he informed me that at least one couple has gotten married on the site. One economic story you can tell about the last hundred or so years is that, as economies globalize, we compete head-to-head with more people, and need to define our domains ever more narrowly if we hope to be #1. Apparently “used Marginal Revolution to get married” was, in fact, far too broad a domain for me to have any hope of excelling.
That is from Byrne Hobart, with the essay mostly on his recent visit to Bloomberg and the Bloomberg AI panel.
Our analysis reveals that segregation into small, homogeneous groups can be a rational choice that maximizes the amount of information available to an individual. In fact, homophilic segregation can be efficient and even Pareto-optimal for society. Why is that? Our argument builds on the idea that people have not only different information, but also different preferences. These differences in preferences can prevent successful communication, because people do not want to reveal their information to those who are different, and distrust the motives of those who speak to them. It then becomes easier to exchange information in segregated, homogeneous cliques than in large crowds. Echo chambers, though they may cut off potential communication with a great number of people, make actual communication possible, and are hence useful for society.
That is from a new paper by Ole Jann and Christoph Schottmüller. I believe Jann is currently on the job market from Oxford this year. Here is their other paper on the economics of privacy. And from Schottmüller: “The quality of
advice can be highest if the adviser’s competence is uncertain.”
More than 75 percent of online students enroll at an institution within 100 miles of their homes, according to recent research from The Learning House (and consistent across past surveys over time). A majority of online students visit campus to access services and support, or to attend events and in-person courses, in a true blending of online and in-person.
A Token Curated Registry (TCR) is a mechanism to incentivize the creation of high quality lists in a decentralized setting. TCRs are becoming popular in the token space. As part of advisory work on mechanism design for the startup Wireline, I wrote a research note on TCRs. I am not as enthused as many others. Here are some takeaways:
Token Curated Registries can work but there is no guarantee that voters will coordinate on the truth as a Schelling point so care needs to be taken in the design stage to imagine other Schelling points. The less focal or more costly it is to discover the truth, the more vulnerable the mechanism will be to biases and manipulation via coordination or collusion.
To understand whether a TCR will work in practice attention needs to be placed on the information environment. The key practical issues are the cost of acquiring high-quality information and the value to an applicant of getting on the registry. Put simply, TCRs are likely to work when high quality information is available at low cost. Vitalik Buterin’s examples of Schelling points were (wisely) all of this kind. Extensions of the Schelling point model to TCRs which are trying to surface information that is much more uncertain, variable and disputed need to recognize the limitations.
It will often be more important to put effort into lowering the cost of acquiring high quality information than it will be to modify the particulars of the mechanism. If high-quality, low-cost information is available many mechanisms will work tolerably well. If high-quality, low-cost information isn’t available, perhaps none will.
Read the whole thing at Medium.
And do check out Wireline. Wireline isn’t going to Mars but it is creating what could be a significant and very useful protocol to find and connect software services to quickly produce decentralized applications that can scale on demand.
Nor are any criticisms of that research presented. The title and subheader of the piece (NYT) are:
A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley
“I am convinced the devil lives in our phones.”
Doesn’t a consensus have to be…scientific? The article does cite many tech people who are limiting the screen time of their children. That may well be a good thing. But tech people also may not have the best balanced understanding of the scientific issues involved, or of how tech is used outside of tech communities (and their children) themselves.
Literally speaking, the headline refers only to a consensus in Silicon Valley. But I do not myself see such a consensus out there during my visits, and it is not obvious within the article what the views of the dissenters might be, or how prominent or numerous those dissenters are. Or even whether they are dissenters or the mainstream. Furthermore, most readers will take this piece to be referring to a broader scientific consensus, which does not in fact exist. And yes I have read some of the published research indicating that tech damages people’s mental capacities and, while such claims may end up being true, I do not find the current research very convincing. In any case, such research ought to have been considered, pro and con.
We have now reached the point where tech is one of the worst covered subject areas by the U.S. and also British media.
While some say wisdom comes with age, younger Americans are better than their elders at separating factual from opinion statements in the news, according to a new analysis from Pew Research Center.
And the gap is noticeable:
About a third of 18- to 49-year-olds (32%) correctly identified all five of the factual statements as factual, compared with two-in-ten among those ages 50 and older. A similar pattern emerges for the opinion statements. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, 44% correctly identified all five opinion statements as opinions, compared with 26% among those ages 50 and older.
When looking at the 10 statements individually, younger adults were not only better overall at correctly identifying factual and opinion news statements – they could do so regardless of the ideological appeal of the statements.
Maybe social media aren’t so terrible after all. And maybe cable TV is less than perfect?
Noah Feldman is moderator, Noah Smith and Justin Fox and Leonid Bershidsky and Shira Ovide and Dina Bass are presenting…you will find my live-blogging in the comments section of this post. Just keep on refreshing for the updates.
Livestream is here: