Posts

Post-crash market efficiency 1696-2020 2020-05-22T14:13:50.903Z
162 benefits of coronavirus 2020-05-12T11:19:43.289Z
Premature death paradox 2020-04-13T23:15:18.641Z
Urgent & important: How (not) to do your to-do list 2019-02-01T17:44:34.573Z
Rationality of demonstrating & voting 2018-11-07T00:09:44.239Z

Comments

Comment by bfinn on Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable · 2020-07-29T11:57:26.219Z · LW · GW

Incidentally something like the defence at the end has actually been used. In 2006, a Northern Irish terrorist called Michael Stone, only just out of prison, was charged with attempted murder after trying to force his way into the Stormont parliament building while armed with a gun and home-made explosives.

It seemed an open and shut case, but in court his defence was that, despite having all the ingredients of an act of terrorism, this wasn’t one at all, but a work of performance art - a mere simulation of an act of terrorism for aesthetic purposes.

As it happens, Stone was indeed quite a noted artist, having taught himself during his previous spell in prison.

Nonetheless judges ruled his testimony to be ‘wholly unbelievable’, and sentenced him to 16 years in jail.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/6193169.stm

Comment by bfinn on Ontologial Reductionism and Invisible Dragons · 2020-07-29T11:34:44.787Z · LW · GW

I think Balofsky deserves credit for writing a very detailed case (albeit tl;dr), and responding in detail to the many critical comments. And it’s a shame it looks like he left LessWrong thereafter, perhaps as a result.

(FWIW I only came across this because I just read EY’s original post, and on a minor point knew that the claim that ‘the Old Testament doesn’t talk about a sense of wonder at the complexity of the universe‘ ain’t true. As Balofsky points out, the Psalms are chock full of this, citing it as evidence of God’s all-round wonderfulness.)

Comment by bfinn on Ontologial Reductionism and Invisible Dragons · 2020-07-29T11:24:55.659Z · LW · GW

And Stockholm syndrome evolved (says evolutionary psych). Because clearly it’s in the woman’s (and her children’s) best interests to comply with captors & survive rather than rebel & be killed.

Comment by bfinn on Post-crash market efficiency 1696-2020 · 2020-05-25T22:22:01.881Z · LW · GW

There were I believe only three major equities being traded back then - Bank of England, and a couple of others (can't recall - East India Company maybe), plus the South Sea Company soon after. The stock market continued to consist of a smallish number of large monopoly companies until the 19th century, when many more companies were listed.

Comment by bfinn on What are objects that have made your life better? · 2020-05-25T09:54:38.204Z · LW · GW

True. Which? magazine (the UK product review magazine) did a test of mattresses a while back in which the most expensive mattress was one of the least comfortable, and the most comfortable was one of the cheapest.

Comment by bfinn on Post-crash market efficiency 1696-2020 · 2020-05-23T15:08:48.252Z · LW · GW

OK, well out of interest I've just done you a chart with grey lines averaging crashes before & after Bretton Woods. ('After' includes 2020 on this one.)

https://i.postimg.cc/wMgs7Jn0/Bretton.png

Not sure whether the difference is significant. The post-Bretton (dashed) line shows a bounce back for the first few weeks, but by year end they're much the same.

Comment by bfinn on Post-crash market efficiency 1696-2020 · 2020-05-23T12:01:36.054Z · LW · GW

UK from Global Financial Data (paid), US from Yahoo Finance (free).

Global Financial Data now provide *daily* FTSE 100 data from 1692 - remarkable. (The 1696 & 1720 lines above were from their earlier monthly data.)

Comment by bfinn on Post-crash market efficiency 1696-2020 · 2020-05-22T20:27:30.176Z · LW · GW

Indeed this analysis would be interesting, though I don't know if long-term enough data (e.g. a century's worth) is available in this level of detail.

I assume there might indeed be clearer patterns in how individual companies' prices react, perhaps depending on their size and liquidity. Though again I expect most, if not all, of any predictability has disappeared in recent decades.

Comment by bfinn on What are objects that have made your life better? · 2020-05-22T19:07:51.900Z · LW · GW

I once heard excellent advice: spare no expense on buying the most comfortable shoes, chairs (eg work chair), and bed/mattress you can find. Because you spend almost 100% of your life standing, sitting, or lying down.

Comment by bfinn on English Bread Regulations · 2020-05-19T15:29:48.386Z · LW · GW

In World War II the UK government banned commercial bakers from making white bread, and required them to use national flour to bake 'the National Loaf'. This was particularly unappetising and unpopular. I think that as in World War I it had to be sold stale; or in any case, it went stale quickly. I suspect in part it was intended to be unappetising to limit consumption.

http://thewartimekitchen.com/?p=104

Comment by bfinn on The EMH Aten't Dead · 2020-05-17T22:38:39.254Z · LW · GW

It's probably taken about a year's full-time work (since 2006). Though I could have spent much less time by using a simpler albeit less effective version of what I do (as indeed I did initially) - just that I like improving it and investigating new things that might work. It is kind of a hobby, but involving a sufficiently serious amount of time and money and risk to be rather more than that.

I think it probably has been worth it, as I reckon the value of my edge is rather bigger than my time cost in salary equivalent, though it is hard to be sure because of the large variability in returns (not least because of two big crashes since I started).

But actually I wouldn't encourage others to try. There can't be many opportunities to beat the market, not many people can risk big enough bets to justify the time taken finding them, and there's a lot to be said for adopting a simple mechanical system that takes little time; maybe just buy & hold (though maybe a bit fancier than that). Not sure it's worth trying to pick stocks (I almost never do that) - just buy an index; though there is some fun to be had doing so, like picking horses, and kidding yourself you have special insight!

Comment by bfinn on 162 benefits of coronavirus · 2020-05-17T22:07:21.756Z · LW · GW

I see your point re reduced productivity growth affecting future generations. Though how much difference that will make to the present generation's vs future generation's wellbeing isn't clear.

Indeed I hadn't thought of the family point, and will add it.

Comment by bfinn on What are your greatest one-shot life improvements? · 2020-05-16T21:23:26.528Z · LW · GW

I discovered a year ago something that substantially improves my mood and energy. In the shower each morning, I rub the sole of each foot for just a few seconds with a flannel (or anything slightly rough would do). This produces a buzz (kinda endorphins + caffeine) that lasts all day, without wearing off as it is renewed by standing or walking. It hasn't diminished over time. It's an amazing free lunch. Not just making life 0.1% better, I'd genuinely say 30% better.

Perhaps I have particularly sensitive feet. But presumably this works for some other people, they just haven't tried it; after all, it took me decades to discover it.

Comment by bfinn on What are your greatest one-shot life improvements? · 2020-05-16T21:13:38.549Z · LW · GW

Likewise, including weekends. Going to bed at roughly the same time also helps, but it's waking up time that's crucial.

Comment by bfinn on The EMH Aten't Dead · 2020-05-16T14:50:25.082Z · LW · GW

Thanks, good post.

Three anecdotes about having an edge but only in illiquid markets where the derivable value is limited:

1. Back in 1991 a friend of mine had the following market-beating insight. He was watching Freddie Mercury on TV a few months before he died; at this point it was not publicly known he was ill with AIDS (nor even, bizarrely, that he was gay - I think all was only revealed just before he died).

My friend said "He's not looking well..." and then made a brilliant inference: "...so Bohemian Rhapsody will be the Christmas No. 1 record this year, then". (In the UK anyway, a big deal is/was made about which single would chart at no. 1 on Christmas Day, and you could even place bets on it.) And so it came to pass - Freddie Mercury unexpectedly died a few weeks before Christmas, Bohemian Rhapsody (dating from 1975) unexpectedly went to no. 1, and my friend kicked himself forever more about not placing a bet on it - bookmakers would have offered odds of 100-1 or even 1000-1.

The catch though, from a couple of times I've tried placing big bets on unlikely events, is that (most) bookmakers don't seem to accept them. They might accept a $100 bet but not a $1000 one on such odds. They suspect you have inside information. (The same happens I've heard if you repeatedly win at roulette in some casinos. Goons appear and instruct you firmly that you may only bet on the low-stakes tables from now on.)

Freddie Mercury's unhealthy appearance was public information. If the market in bets on Christmas no. 1 records were liquid enough, thousands of others would be considering the third-order consequences of such information & making similar inferences, the odds would be rapidly changing, and my friend would have lost his edge by the time he placed his bet.

So while he could have beaten the illiquid market, he wouldn't have made much in expectation - maybe not enough to justify the time & risk - and conversely he couldn't have beaten a liquid market which would accept big enough bets.

2. Similarly, another friend of mine worked for a while with a tech startup that was arbitraging between betting exchanges (like Betfair) on which ordinary people can lay odds as well as place bets. As a result of which, different exchanges often show somewhat different odds on the same event. After much development and testing, the startup realised that though they could reliably identify & arbitrage these odds differences, they could only make dollars per hour doing so, not thousands. There wasn't enough liquidity on the betting exchanges. The wronger the odds someone was laying, the smaller the bet they'd accept. So the startup closed down.

3. I've been trading equities since 2006 on various index derivatives, in very large amounts. I have expertise on one niche area, involving a lot of data & programming, and beat the market for some years with it, until the effect in question went away (as it was already known about, albeit quite obscure).

Recently I've found a derivative of a particular index that seems to have excess risk-adjusted returns in certain bets on it, so have been trading it for a while. Again I've had to source and estimate and crunch large amounts of hard-to-obtain historical data, writing my own software to manipulate it. But the inefficiency is probably only because this derivative is quite illiquid. Some days I'm doing a significant fraction (even a quarter or a third!) of the whole day's trading on it! (Though I am betting very large amounts.)

So I reckon I probably am beating the market, but only because I've found a sweet spot where there's extra money to be made, but not enough for more than a few others to do so too. I'm grabbing a large part of the edge to be had, by using kinda public but hard-to-get information. If the derivative were more liquid, others would be finding similar things to me. If it were less liquid (like Christmas no. 1 bets) I couldn't place big enough trades to be worthwhile.

(There is also extra risk from the limited liquidity (e.g. of slippage when stopped out) which might reduce returns a lot in an extreme situation - though I suspect not enough to remove my overall edge. The risk needs very careful handling.)

Comment by bfinn on 162 benefits of coronavirus · 2020-05-16T11:26:46.722Z · LW · GW

Thanks for this.

I'm not a geographer/economist, but I assume the historical productivity benefit of cities has all boiled down to proximity, hence transport - people close enough that they can work together, trade, etc. People who choose to de-urbanize will explicitly take into account these effects in their decision - can they still conveniently get to work (if they need to visit an office once a week, say), see friends, get to a cinema/mall, etc. If they find the rural life too quiet (i.e. too far from places they want to be) they won't move, or will move back to a town/city.

So I assume people will choose their own optimum; leaving only the problem of externalities, primarily indeed climate change. I can see de-urbanization would increase at least some driving, e.g. further to get to stores (though online shopping will increase), and thereby have a climate effect. So I've added a mention of that.

If climate change is dealt with in a suitable way, e.g. carbon taxes, that would however internalize this externality and so people would respond in an appropriate way - e.g. by cutting down on unnecessary trips to the mall.

Comment by bfinn on 162 benefits of coronavirus · 2020-05-16T10:43:13.557Z · LW · GW

Thanks for this.

UBI - the +/- indicates the uncertainty. But there is certainty of *calls* for UBI (which is how I worded it) - already happening!

Exercise - fair point, maybe there will be a fall-off in exercise even after lockdown. So I've reworded. I reckon a lot of gyms will go bust, because their business model relies on automatic renewals of membership subscriptions even though many people don't go very often. Presumably subscriptions have all stopped, and after lockdown I think a lot of people won't restart them, having figured out how to exercise without a gym; or become couch potatoes.

Indeed the mental health harms will be big, but as the post was intended to list only benefits, I was focussing on the long-term upsides. I reckon there will be big short- to medium-term harms (e.g. from isolation, anxiety, then unemployment) but also benefits from recognition of the harms; e.g. better recognition of mental health problems, less stigma, more healthcare funding. Which may well be permanent. Anyway I'll reword to make it a bit clearer.

Re relationships - point taken, so I'll change that to say 'Some relationships'. Indeed there's been a big upswing in domestic violence etc., and no doubt break-ups and divorces will rise too. But also people learning to live better together, spend more time together etc.

Yes I'm unsure about redistribution of wealth too, hence the +/-.

Comment by bfinn on 162 benefits of coronavirus · 2020-05-16T10:33:31.150Z · LW · GW

With the big exception of the reduced existential risk, I'm not claiming an overall net benefit. Though even existential risk aside, perhaps there is one (would need to do the calculations). E.g. it seems to me the long-term changes in work and work-life balance could be a huge permanent benefit; such as reductions in commuting and office usage, which seem a vast waste of time & money. It's a shame it takes a disaster like this to make it happen, but that seems to be the way the world works. The status quo has to be stretched to breaking point.

Also not all the destruction is bad in itself - 'creative destruction' is a real thing. Some organisations really are just a waste of time & money, and are better off closed down so people & capital can find more productive use. Many were in a 'zombie' state before coronavirus. The UK department store chain Debenhams for example, which went bankrupt last month only a year after the previous time it had gone bust and been rescued. An outdated retail model for which there is no longer enough demand.

I also know lots of classical musicians who barely scrape a living, and really there are too many chasing too little work. It can take decades for people to realise they're fighting a losing battle; a crisis can accelerate that.

Comment by bfinn on 162 benefits of coronavirus · 2020-05-16T10:16:44.579Z · LW · GW

I thought I read Ord give the 600 year figure, but maybe I'm mistaken. Anyway that would presumably be a correct extrapolation if we continue 'business as usual' - i.e. without taking steps that would reduce the risk. (Not least as the risks are otherwise increasing, due to e.g. it getting easier and easier to create deadly bioweapons.)

I don't see anything wrong in using current population forecasts, since I don't think anyone's suggesting they would be far wrong AFAIK? Give or take a few billion. (Unless we leave earth and set up massive space colonies elsewhere, which I suppose could happen in a few centuries perhaps, but even then seems unlikely to produce very many billions more people that quickly.)

Comment by bfinn on Premature death paradox · 2020-05-16T10:08:16.523Z · LW · GW

Ok - I see the analogy. Though not sure it points to a clear solution to the paradox.

Comment by bfinn on Premature death paradox · 2020-05-15T08:46:06.806Z · LW · GW

Thanks, good points.

Comment by bfinn on 162 benefits of coronavirus · 2020-05-15T08:44:17.348Z · LW · GW

All are intended to be net benefits anyway, or possibly so (hence ?s).

Which do you particularly disagree with?

Comment by bfinn on 162 benefits of coronavirus · 2020-05-13T19:33:28.936Z · LW · GW

Thanks. Yes, maybe it should have a +/-, so I've added one. A bit borderline. My justification for not giving one was that research shows religion produces a substantial increase in wellbeing (and I'm a utilitarian so put a high value on that); but I agree it often comes with a significant cost (to rationality etc.)

There were quite a few borderline cases, so the +/- may not seem that useful, but I wanted to acknowledge that e.g. failures of businesses, charities and educational institutions involve substantial short-term harms, even if probably net beneficial (clearing out dead wood etc.)

Comment by bfinn on 162 benefits of coronavirus · 2020-05-13T15:25:38.600Z · LW · GW

Thanks for this. I've made the online shopping thing a +/- as suggested (even though personally I think it's net positive; re worker treatment, while no doubt there is some of this, I doubt the conditions are awful on the whole - e.g. contrary to the horror stories, surveys show most gig economy workers are happy with their work.)

Reading and worldwide solidarity are already in there under Perspective (I put a ? by the solidarity thing because there has also been xenophobia & protectionism and this may increase).

Re people being more willing to show their emotions - is this so? More willing to show appreciation, certainly (mentioned again under Perspective).

Let me know if you come up with any more!

Comment by bfinn on 162 benefits of coronavirus · 2020-05-13T15:17:23.265Z · LW · GW

Indeed analysing how these things have been dealt with in the past would be interesting, but it's beyond me to do this myself! Lacking the necessary knowledge. Perhaps others can.

Re preparedness for future pandemics, this is the first truly global one for a century, so it seems a different kind of beast from others like SARS. The amount of government and scientific effort being thrown at it is huge, as is the disruption to voters. So it seems to me that voters won't quickly forget it, and will urge governments to ensure it doesn't happen again, which will force them to show they are making serious preparations against future ones.

Comment by bfinn on Tips/tricks/notes on optimizing investments · 2020-05-12T14:35:53.935Z · LW · GW

Or in the UK just spreadbet, which is entirely tax-free. (You can spreadbet futures & options.)

Comment by bfinn on Refactoring EMH – Thoughts following the latest market crash · 2020-04-29T13:39:35.791Z · LW · GW

An example: some years ago a friend of mine worked for a startup that had the idea of arbitraging between sports betting markets (like Betfair), since they often show different odds and anyone can lay odds.

But only after developing software to do this - which worked - did it dawn on them that the liquidity was too low (e.g. not enough people laying odds). They had no trouble making revenues, but only tens of dollars per hour, not thousands. No possibility of profits.

So they closed the business. And presumably that market remains inefficient.

Comment by bfinn on Premature death paradox · 2020-04-21T22:39:46.310Z · LW · GW

Yes, I think Steve White in that livestream was making a similar point (more briefly). I can certainly see this as a sense of premature death; in that you can imagine someone living to a reasonable old age and feeling like they've achieved all they wanted and are ready to die (e.g. I think Einstein ended up like this); so someone in the opposite condition (in the middle of important work and not wanting to die at all, as well as maybe dying significantly younger than their cohort) would be said to have died prematurely or 'too soon'.

(And many people die in an in between state, still doing stuff and not wanting to die, but fairly elderly and not particularly in the middle of important projects. So not clearly premature or not. Which merely shows that the concept, like many, is somewhat vague.)

That livestream also showed me there are many different philosophical angles on death. Really my post was just about the statistical puzzle, rather than the wider issue of premature death, which I've never given much thought to before!

Comment by bfinn on Premature death paradox · 2020-04-19T13:04:29.157Z · LW · GW

Ah OK - thanks!

Comment by bfinn on Premature death paradox · 2020-04-18T12:24:02.217Z · LW · GW

Thanks for this. This certainly sounds plausible, though whether the premature and post-mature predictions would exactly cancel out isn't obvious. (Not sure without trying the maths, and it may or may not be tricky - this is what actuaries are for.)

Also I'm not sure whether it requires the life expectancy predictions to be made on the same basis for everyone (e.g. life expectancy tables) or if it would still work for individually tailored predictions.

I can see this could dissolve most of the paradox, but (as I threw as many confusions as I could think of into the post!) I sense one may still remain about tailored predictions. At the extreme, in a deterministic world, God could calculate our individual time of death when we're born. All his life expectancy predictions made at any time would be correct, and he wouldn't be surprised when we die; but nonetheless dying age 20 would still be premature. (And not just because we can't make perfect predictions.) Possibly 'premature' means slightly different things in different contexts.

Comment by bfinn on Premature death paradox · 2020-04-18T11:45:21.106Z · LW · GW

Thanks for this. I listened to quite a lot of it but couldn't find the specific discussion in the recording. (A similar question is listed in the text questions that were asked, but it doesn't seem to link to the right point in the discussion for the answer.) Anyway.

Comment by bfinn on Is Science Slowing Down? · 2020-04-16T19:51:52.110Z · LW · GW

I've long thought the low-hanging fruit phenomenon applies to music. You can see it at work in the history of classical music. Starting with melodies (e.g. folk songs), breakthroughs particularly in harmony generated Renaissance music, Baroque, then Classical (meaning specifically Mozart etc.), then Romantic, then a modern cult of novelty produced a flurry of new styles from the turn of the 20th century (Impressionism onwards).

But by say 1980 it's like everything had been tried, a lot of 20th century experimentation (viz. atonal) was a dead end as far as audiences were concerned, and since then it's basically been tinkering around with the discoveries that have already been made.

If it is the case (and I think it is) that the invention of 'common practice music', i.e. tonal music with tunes & harmony, is actually a discovery of what humans like to hear, then there is a genuine limit on the number of tunes and chord progressions and rhythms possible, let alone good ones. (Cf the upper limit on the number of distinct flavours or colours, hence dishes or pictures.)

I suspect there is a similar story with novels. 20th century experimentation (stream of consciousness etc.) was a dead end, and it could well be we've already discovered broadly the optimum kind of novels that can be written. No doubt some great new ones will come along, some new genres, and occasional new Shakespeares, but basically it's tinkering with an existing format - stories of a certain length with plots of various standard kinds about humans (or human-like characters).

Hence also film/TV (similar to novels). And no doubt the other art forms too.

Partly what I'm saying here is that the arts involve discoveries more than inventions: it's discovering what humans are hard-wired (by evolution) to like. The element of culture/fashion is rather limited. Once you've made the key discoveries, you can still be creative by tinkering around (recombining elements etc.) but the scope is limited. Cf Damien Hirst said some years ago that all possible pictures [i.e. all significantly different kinds of picture] had already been made. And Edward Elgar made a similar observation a century ago about the limited number of different tunes you could make.

(PS If you think this is a pessimistic view, bear in mind that in your lifetime you won't read even all the famous classic novels or hear all the highly-regarded pieces of music. So the fact there can't be an infinite supply of future ones doesn't matter. First go away and read all the books ever written, then I'll listen when you complain there's a finite limit on new ones.)

Comment by bfinn on Expressive Vocabulary · 2020-04-16T18:38:47.456Z · LW · GW

I suspect pointing out someone's confusion about the scope of the terms 'natural' and 'chemicals' is a proxy (not necessarily a bad one) for pointing out that their whole thinking on the topic is confused. It's a sign they assume incorrectly that natural (whatever they mean by it) is good and chemical (likewise) is bad, which is usually what they are implying.

E.g. I heard someone on the radio talking about this re the term 'processed' food; he said people who disapprove of processed food might say it's much better to eat e.g. pasta with some parmesan and wine. Whereas in fact those are all highly processed foods too. So pointing this out is a more polite way of saying "your thinking is so muddled you haven't even thought through what counts as 'processed' (or 'natural' or 'chemical'), so you're not justified in assuming that that entails something is good or bad, which indeed it doesn't." Which seems a valid point.

Comment by bfinn on Expressive Vocabulary · 2020-04-16T18:22:48.090Z · LW · GW

I think in dichotomy-removing arguments along the lines of 'there's no such thing as X' or 'everything is X' tend to be clever (and illuminating if properly understood) but wrong. What they show is that the thing isn't what you thought it was, or is commonly thought to be.

Cf free will and determinism - suppose the world were deterministic, then all your decisions were pre-determined, so you don't have free will. But then we'd have to treat all previous uses of the phrase 'free will' as meaningless or false, which is highly inconvenient and not in practice what happens. (Cf your saying it's not useful to say that.) It shows instead that free will means something separate from pre-determination - e.g. ability to get what you want, or want to want the things you want, or whatever.

There are examples where 'there's no such thing as X' can be found to be true even though X was widely believed to exist - e.g. rain-gods, phlogiston. But it's more normal to say that X does exist but meant something else all along. E.g. atoms do exist, but can be split (ancient Greek philosophers said they were indivisible by definition.)

Comment by bfinn on Making yourself small · 2020-04-16T18:08:44.867Z · LW · GW

I read somewhere that higher status men and women use their status in different ways when they are in a group of (lower status) people. Higher status women use it to kind of subtly chair the group, keeping themselves in the background but helping others have their say etc (i.e. make themselves small). Whereas higher status men put themselves centre-stage and talk a lot (make themselves big).

Comment by bfinn on Making yourself small · 2020-04-16T18:03:34.056Z · LW · GW

My clearest experience of unintentionally being 'big' was when I was at a meetup group in a pub. The others sat down to talk round a table, but there were no normal-sized chairs left, so I pulled up a bar stool which meant I was about a foot higher up than everyone else. Suddenly they all started paying close attention to everything I said! It was really weird!

Comment by bfinn on Spaghetti Towers · 2020-04-16T17:45:42.827Z · LW · GW

Wasn't the 2008 credit crunch due to this (at least partly)? Numerous dependencies between different financial institutions which they only partly understood so they all stopped trusting each other?

I've heard that there has been a similar situation for many years in derivatives - a vast complex largely uncharted edifice of dependencies between complex financial instruments that are based on other financial instruments e.g. share prices. If parts of it collapse no-one knows which other bits will collapse too. Its size depends how you look at it, but it's certainly in the trillions of $, and by some accounts it's far larger than the entire real-world economy. https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/052715/how-big-derivatives-market.asp

Comment by bfinn on Reality-Revealing and Reality-Masking Puzzles · 2020-04-16T11:46:37.075Z · LW · GW

On a side detail, in defence of sales and marketing skills:

Some useful things they bring is the ability to identify what features of your product are important, or unique, and what customers care about and want. Ie understanding the market. Thereby the ability to improve products and create new ones that are useful.

[Added:] Oh, and also to actually get products to the attention of people who would want them! You own lots of useful products that you would never have heard about or bought were it not for sales & marketing skills. Products don't sell themselves, and only some market themselves (e.g. by word of mouth - which only works for products that become popular among people you know).

Comment by bfinn on What makes people intellectually active? · 2020-04-16T10:54:47.436Z · LW · GW

Re temporary delusion that one’s ideas are important (or new): a good example is individuals who file patents. They think they have a world-beating invention. In fact 90% of patents are never used, and getting a patent costs a fortune. There’s a well-known phenomenon I’ve heard called ‘search shock’, when a naive inventor goes to a patent attorney, who conducts a patent search and reveals to the incredulous inventor that every supposedly original, brilliant aspect of the invention has been both thought of and patented before.

Comment by bfinn on Unrolling social metacognition: Three levels of meta are not enough. · 2020-04-16T09:43:40.621Z · LW · GW

I once heard an academic talking on the radio about social metacognition. He pointed out that some episode in Shakespeare's Othello involves 7 levels of metacognition. 5 of them are in the play (unfortunately I can't recall the details, but someone thinks that someone else knew that someone else deceived someone into thinking that blah blah). The sixth is the fact that the audience understands it, and the seventh is that Shakespeare knew that by writing this he could make the audience understand it. (And arguably there's an eighth, that we realize that Shakespeare knew that...)

It only took the academic a few sentences for him to summarize the whole situation and all the levels, and it was all perfectly clear. Showing how good humans are at advanced metacognition.

Also, incidentally, metacognition is crucial in professional level poker, in which multiple levels are used - e.g. by betting this I can make my opponent think that I think that he thinks that I have an ace.

Comment by bfinn on Noticing the Taste of Lotus · 2020-04-15T22:05:14.756Z · LW · GW

Is anything genuinely valuable though? I.e. independent of the fact that it generates rewards (feelings of happiness, life satisfaction, eudaemonia). A philosophical stance I know, but a widely held one.

Comment by bfinn on Popular papers to be scrutinized? · 2020-04-15T19:53:51.599Z · LW · GW

I read The Bell Curve (many years ago) and it's certainly an interesting book.

I suppose before embarking on reading/comparing two books like this (a lot of work!) it would be good to be clear on just what the purpose of the exercise is. It's not quite clear to me, but anyway.

Comment by bfinn on Arbital postmortem · 2020-04-15T19:09:23.768Z · LW · GW

FWIW, and as you'll no doubt have gathered, various of the issues you encountered are commonplace with software startups. But avoidable, particularly by involving or recruiting people with suitable business experience.

I note neither your post nor any comments seem to mention management or business experience as such. I don't know if you or others involved had previous experience of running a business, but maybe little or none. The common startup model of figuring it out as you go along only works up to a point; things tend to descend into chaos sooner or later.

Managers are generally somewhat looked down on, particularly maybe by geeky types, who underestimate their importance. (Cf Eliezer recounted somewhere a meeting I think with a VC manager, who made some astute remark, and Eliezer was astonished to realize that there were very smart people in business. Why wouldn't there be?) But business is no different from other skills (e.g. coding) - it isn't straightforward, and years of experience is really valuable. You can't just figure it out yourself or read up on it, you learn by doing. So involving or recruiting experienced managers (e.g. project managers, sales & marketing managers, indeed CEOs and CTOs) is very important. If it's a small startup, maybe only one experienced businessperson is required early on, but it's precarious with none.

Comment by bfinn on Popular papers to be scrutinized? · 2020-04-15T13:10:12.765Z · LW · GW

They're quite old books now though; somewhat out of date I expect (though most of the main points are probably still relevant).

Comment by bfinn on Discontinuous progress in history: an update · 2020-04-15T11:49:24.477Z · LW · GW

On the last point, I wonder if there might be a slight bias in general of history remembering people with distinctive names, or indeed other irrelevant characteristics. (Cf Robert Hooke's disputes with other scientists led to centuries of underestimation of his importance.)

Comment by bfinn on Premature death paradox · 2020-04-15T11:39:41.187Z · LW · GW

Yes indeed. Though the curiosity remains that at the time of death, that evidence is woefully wrong, because you're the least healthy person alive; an extreme outlier. Which means, life expectancy tables are only useful if you're not actually near death. Their % prediction error approaches infinity as you approach death (and the error is systematically in one direction).

Comment by bfinn on Premature death paradox · 2020-04-15T11:33:29.996Z · LW · GW

Yes, though what the right reference class of people is is tricky. For it's possible for a whole cohort to die prematurely (e.g. from plague or war).

Maybe it's just that dying prematurely is dying 'earlier than expected' (as another comment suggests), but various different things can influence what people expect; it's not as clear-cut concept as it seems.

Comment by bfinn on Premature death paradox · 2020-04-14T14:46:02.686Z · LW · GW

Yes... but what is their a priori life expectancy?

Comment by bfinn on Premature death paradox · 2020-04-14T14:24:47.979Z · LW · GW

Well, what does dying 'prematurely' mean? Is it just dying younger than the life expectancy your cohort had at the time when you were born? What's so special about that life expectancy, rather than later estimates, or ones more specific to your own health & circumstances? Which are surely more relevant.

But if we use what seems to be the most relevant life expectancy, viz. one incorporating all relevant information about you, no-one ever dies prematurely.

(And dying prematurely doesn't mean dying before the average of your cohort either, because it's possible for most/all of a whole cohort to die young, e.g. from plague or war.)

Comment by bfinn on Discontinuous progress in history: an update · 2020-04-14T12:40:42.607Z · LW · GW

Very interesting work indeed. A bunch of different observations:

The invention of the shipping container seems a likely candidate for a discontinuity in shipping speed, shipping costs and global trade. Though economic data on it is patchy, the go-to book on the subject is The Box by Marc Levinson.

Re invention of the telegraph, the book A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark accounts (pp. 305-7) via a series of clever inferences how from Roman times to 1800 the speed of long-distance travel of important information, regardless of method, was constant at 1 mph. This increased slightly in the first half of the 19th century, until the discontinuity from the telegraph. The book has lots of other data on historical innovation that may well be useful to you.

Re product features, and this recent LessWrong article (which no doubt you've seen) about the crucial difference between a prototype and a practical invention, I repeat my comment there that a high-quality implementation, e.g. usability & user-friendliness, rather than specific features often seems to be the crucial breakthrough. As shown by Apple: various inventions of theirs - the Apple Mac, iPod, smartphone, iPad - had little innovation as such. Desktop computers, GUIs, mice; digital music players; mobile phones, personal digital assistants; touch screens, tablet computers - these all already existed. But in each case Apple's breakthrough was to take them from being commercial but mediocre implementations, to very good implementations. And only when that happened did mass adoption occur, which is a crucial step in the impact of the invention.

Finally, I should make the obvious remark that though looking at the history of past inventions is very interesting, applying this to the future, particularly to AI, would be an extrapolation, which may or may not be valid at all, particularly if superhuman AGI is a quite different phenomenon from any previous invention (which it may well be).