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Definite Optimism as Human Capital (danwang.co)
47 points by waqasaday 9 days ago | hide | past | web | 17 comments | favorite

For an example of an AI taking over to save mankind, there's "The Forbin Project". And "With Folded Hands", by Silverberg. There's also "The Day the Earth Stood Still", the original version.

More recently, there's "After On", in which the system behind something like Facebook becomes sentient. This is well thought out.

As for optimism, that's what fuels YCombinator. Most of the people who apply will be rejected. Most of the people accepted will fail. Only the investors and management of YC have a reasonable expectation of a return on their investment.

That's nice, but investors don't invest in creativity. They invest in a project that might make money, roughly isomorphic to one run by people who are tenacious, connected, and reliable. They want to see a track record of success. They want to see someone who's thrived in ordinary businesses - they want to see someone with high emotional intelligence.

But how often are really creative people like that? Most of the brilliant, creative people I know are outcasts, misfits, with very uneven records of success in more mundane roles. They are hard to get a long with and, overall, not very successful in life. Would a VC (let alone a bank) even look twice at such a one? Absolutely not.

I mostly agree with the author's premise: we need to take a step back from the digital (Internet, social media) and return to the chemical/material/physical world to drive future productivity growth. That's what drew me to research advances in the embedded industry - working with companies that fuse physical and digital in safety-critical/industrial products every day.

His 2 calls to action:

(1) for the readers of his blog to spend more time thinking about industrial problems (how to build an aircraft, run a cargo ship logistics company, "meditate on the importance of steel in the economy")

(2) for VCs and investors to fund morale-boosting celebrations of industry, such as world fairs and more movies like "The Martian".

I think #1 is unrealistic - a lot of highly-trained people get paid to do this already, and as productivity growth slows, the need for efficiency in these industrial processes has only increased. That's why the ML implications of IoT are so heavily touted by all major players across automotive, A&D, industrial automation, energy & utilities, transportation, logistics, etc. I don't think it would help much for everyone to go about their day thinking about how HVDC electricity grids work, or how gasoline is synthesized from petroleum.

I think #2 would be helpful right now given the current political/media climate, but needs to be done extremely carefully. If done quickly/wrong many would be angry - look at the latest SV and QE-funded propaganda, so out of touch with the 99% of people in the rest of the country, can't solve pressing social and economic issues so they are making up some fantasy-land "world fair" to celebrate companies and people that stand for what the majority of the country perceives as social and moral decay.

Overall I feel where the author is coming from, but I think this piece is a bit out of touch with reality - maybe hence the "optimism" bit in the title :)

This is a left-leaning take on Peter Thiel's philosophy.

The article meanders a lot without making coherent points, making a lot of false assumptions.

It's one of those articles that's written by a journalist for journalists in an attempt to get some sort of participation trophy, without regard for the soundness of underlying arguments or readability.

Also, maybe stop blaming economists in every paragraph, when you can't even get the basics right yourself:

"What are the factors that drive economic growth? If we pull out and dust off our econ textbooks, we’ll read that growth is a function of higher investments, spending, trade, productivity, and so on."

Well, Dan, here you go: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solow%E2%80%93Swan_model

All your mumbo-jumbo about optimism and other obscure factors that you invented while writing this JFJ piece can be summed up by the A parameter in the model.

The current unemployment rate in Japan is 2.8 percent. Japanese millennials get to enjoy a fairly tight labor market, which means they ought to have their pick of company to work for.

Low unemployment rate does not automatically mean better bargaining power for labor.

I'd consider asking for a refund on those economics classes you took.

Of the things he listed, the technical change parameter only represents productivity. Though he does wander quite a bit, I don't know what's particularly obscure about trade.

You should cut the guy some slack.

How about suits stop putting a price tag on everything on this planet, physical and otherwise

Everything that is desired takes resources to get, the price tag is just an approximation.

That said your sentiment is appreciated.

In my view that's a misconception, one that's quite common in the tech world (and also to a certain extent in the broader culture). Robert Kennedy commented on this (in a different context) in a speech in 1968:

> And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.


Judging and quantifying demand is not the same thing as materialism.

I was responding to this statement:

> Everything that is desired takes resources to get

Kennedy made the good point (as others have, less eloquently) that there are many things that are desired that neither take resources to get nor are measured by conventional metrics.

I think our point of agreement could be summed up as: "Evertything has a price and only the cheapest things can be bought for money."

Hmm. I think I'd agree only to the second half of that. Just considering Kennedy's examples alone there are many things that cannot be bought at any price: consider the joy of a child's play or the integrity of public officials.

As an aside, the term "Human Capital" really rubs me the wrong way. It makes me seem like just an investment, a thing obtained to generate wealth and nothing else. I've never worked for an organization with a Human Capital department that wasn't overly corporate.

But it is exactly what you said. "Human capital" was conceived in analogy with physical capital as the stock of knowledge and technical ability embodied in human workers which can be used to produce wealth.

What else you wanted it to be?

> What else you wanted it to be?

Human Resources sounds much better. It accomplishes the same thing while not making the workers sound like cash cows. Corporations dehumanize their workers, but there's no reason to make it blatant.

Oddly, how I feel towards the expression "human resources" is more like what you feel towards "human capital", because human capital is merely attached to the workers but doesn't fully constitute them, and it only exist in so far people are workers. "Human resources", on the other hand, makes me think of Soylent Green.

About language, I don't think it's an issue that impersonal bureaucratic organizations treat their members in a impersonal way. I'm not sure even if there's another way, because there doesn't seem to be much going for the alternatives either, which so far have been: to turn the firm into a cult by having it establish itself as a surrogate identity or as a substitute for an actual social environment for it's workers; or, to establish itself as a manipulative corporation which insists that their workers are "special", even though they're clearly not treated as such. It's best if people have realistic expectations regarding their employers. Everything else just seems lead to creepiness.

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