This quote stood out to me. It seems like we silently concluded that the physical world has evolved enough, developed enough, even though there's a ton of inefficiencies to fix.
I often lament that the built environment of the average American city looks stuck in the 80s, and this quote made me think of that.
I don't think it's the spending that the US is allergic to, it's the collecting the money to spend.
I suddenly felt like I understood why American cars have such soft suspension. The roads were notably worse than in the UK, and by a wide margin: no way I'd want to drive a car with a sportier setup there.
What's depressing is that since 2010 there's been a progressive degradation in the state of our roads. In Cambridgeshire the roads are now in a terrible state: cracks, fissures, potholes, road markings barely visible.
You can blame public spending cuts for this, and no doubt there's truth in that statement, but there are plenty of road infrastructure projects happening. For example: the (admittedly decades overdue) A14 upgrade, recently completed Ely southern bypass, various smart motorway projects (M1 and M4 spring immediately to mind, as well as recently completed work on M3).
This is all well and good, but I would far rather see some of this money diverted to the basics of a safe road network: i.e., ensuring the roads we already have are in good condition. I would particularly like to see funds being used for smart motorways, for which serious safety concerns have emerged, diverted in this way.
All new projects in England since 2013 have used All Lane Running (an alternative to widening, where the HS is permanently converted into a traffic lane). This format is not being killed off.
The A14 Huntingdon Bypass was supposed to open as a smart motorway (A14(M)) but the legislation hasn't passed soon enough, so it will open as an all-purpose road with motorway-style restrictions and smart tech.
... but that doesn't excuse the under-spending on them, because we're also under-spending.
The United States wouldn't be so allergic to public spending if we weren't so complacent about foreign spending, namely the military and foreign aid/manipulation.
the main culprit is regulation. There are other markets which build modern cities at breakneck pace
the same thing is going to happen to tech now that regulation is kicking in
Now, that level of sloppiness, but applied to bridges and skyscrapers? No thanks.
But on not turning buildings into death traps, I'd start by asking the ICWCI.
Is he saying there is something wrong with electric subways? It seems an excellent solution to transport in a dense urban area. And metros have kept up with technology fairly well. What is the better solution to the subway for the problem it solves in the places it solves them?
Yes, we've had subways for over 100 years. And trains in general. Freight trains are very efficient ways of moving things. How old is the hammer or the shovel? Pretty old. And both work well.
He mentions also that some extension of a NYC subway cost $3.8 billion a mile. Yeah that's expensive. No doubt they ran into horrific problems drilling the tunnel. B-1 bomber program spent $40 billion and delivered 20 aircraft at a program cost of $2 billion each (much more than the claimed cost, but this is the actual cost). Likewise the B-2 ran $1 billion each. Was this mile of subway worth more than two B-1 bombers? I'd say yes but others may say no.
These systems could be modern and effective, but instead they're disintegrating in place. That's the problem.
Think that while this person is looking at the iPhone on the subway, it's also probably unaware that there is (in this very moment, in the world) people starving to dead or dying from deceases that already have a cure, or that there is people beheading others with machetes in tribal-like wars.
The paradigm of progress is relative.
I prefer the society that does not end up with machetes, but there are maniacs out there that would argue that even expressing such a preference is 'problematic'
SV seems to have figured out that some land can be redeveloped into apartments relatively recently, but otherwise it looks like 60s was a pretty active development era and most of that stuff is still here. By contrast, in LA much of 50s - 60s sprawl has been replaced by 70-80, or even 90s sprawl.
California is basically screwed as long as prop 13 applies to businesses and apartment buildings - what incentive do you have as the owner to raise your tax base, especially with rent control where you can’t charge more.
We need a smartphone-age/post-TV update to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panem_et_circenses and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusing_Ourselves_to_Death
There is, however, a case to be made that the computer tech age has reached an end. Tech companies turning to investing in banking and real estate is not a good sign.
We'll see the same with tech, maybe in a few years maybe in a few decades.
I am not saying I am feeling great about those particular companies entering the finance industry, but it's not like it's a signal that technology is becoming unimportant. If anything it's just the continued expansion of technology.
btw this technology already exists in bitcoin and other coins
This is not his most articulate talk, fwiw. Thiel's smart and sometimes very clear, but not here. This feels off the cuff, where he's falling back on pot shots and sound bites.
I don't know how this compares to talks he's given, but there were a lot of small ideas in there which I thought were really interesting - like the idea that we're in a period of relative technological stagnation compared to a couple decades ago. And how obvious this observation seems to both Thiel and Weinstein.
Kind of. There's no new "must have" consumer electronics product. 3D TV was a flop, robot vacuums were a dud, VR goggles make 5% to 15% of the population nauseous, and everybody has a smartphone.
The "lose money on every sale and make it up on volume" model (Uber, etc.) is coming apart. Self-driving cars don't work yet. Moore's Law has hit a wall. Wafer fab cost is so high that the next node may be unaffordable.
There's lots of stuff to do, though. Solar panels and batteries work pretty well, and there's a few trillion dollars of those to be deployed. But it's not a Make Money Fast business. Electric cars and charging stations work, and those need to be deployed. The battery manufacturers need to get their automation act together and start pumping those things out at high speed at very low cost.
There's also lots of room for progress in bioengineering. Editing DNA is just beginning.
Every Apple product launch has commentary of "This isn't as successful as the iPhone", like yeah, no shit, the iPhone isn't going to be replicated every 10 years. We aren't always on the cusp of being able to combine components generated from advances in multiple industries to propel one industry to market dominance.
I like to imagine a future where we are able to continue the advances of Moore's law by getting more efficient with our software and the ever increasing abilities multi core processing. I have no idea if that's how it's going to continue, but in the absence of continued progress in one area, progress will probably be demanded in another.
But the nature of the next market is, of course, much harder to glimpse. Like looking into pier glass, it takes effort to get a fragmented view of things. It's not as easy as Thiel's view: AI and surveillance, for example is more broadly authoritarian than it is any specific ideology. And infrastructure often leapfrogs stages in the developing world, and that can be true of a developed country like the U.S. too.
There's plenty of good work being done quietly in the current market. The word I'd pay the most attention to is sustainability, though. It's been more-or-less entirely a marketing term for decades, never delivering on the promise, but then, often it takes a while for the products to catch up to the marketing.
A couple examples, his indictment of the Obamas is that they sent their kids to Harvard but his indictment of America is that we don't focus on the things we do well... such as universities?
The assault on science now without any prescriptive solutions. Is he arguing for more populous interpretation of science? Has he had any first hand experience and investigation into the mechanisms of double blind peer review? (In my experience, still prone to gaming but often rigorous and the best method we've got).
Re: The indictment of the SV elite. I don't move in the same circles as he does but it's obvious that he's still smarting from the SV elite's rejection of him.
His hypocrisy from being owner of Palantir and yet seeming indictment of AI software for governments? Another layer of hypocrisy of espousing libertarian values when he's come to embody the system as much as anyone (in the administration, numerous govt military contracts with Palantir). And yet he's even more shifty than that, embracing NZ citizenship for possible tax evasion avenues.
His indictment of Twitter yet entrepreneurs have made material progress in traditional sectors (his old buddy Elon making headway with Tesla).
Our indictment of him should be that he's turned his back on values he's formerly espoused, content to rankle in a 'get off my front lawn style' on his large pile of capital while often committing the same hypocrisies of which he feigns disgust.
Although don't miss out on gems like: "But in practice, the main AI applications that people seem to talk about are using large data to sort of monitor people, know more about people than they know about themselves. And in the limit case, maybe it can solve a lot of the sort of Austrian Economics type problems where you can know enough about people that you know more about them than they know about themselves, and you can sort of enable communism to work, maybe not so much as an economic theory, but at least as a political theory. So it is definitely a Leninist thing. And then, it is literally communist because China loves AI; it hates crypto. And so that, I think, tells you something."
AI is literally communist. Thanks Peter.
a) Harvard is a pure signaling mechanism that doesn't provide education as much as exclusionary credentials.
b) AI/Big data is a way to solve the economic calculation problem that was once seen as one of the main theoretical hurdles against communism. That a country like China favors AI and punishes crypto tells you something (that it's a communist dictatorship).
It's pretty straightforward.
I think this is a good point, there isn't enough going on in other areas, like he said people ride the 100 year old subway distracted by their iPhones not realizing the world around them is unchanging mostly.
It's true in some ways, who will build or even demand the better faster subways of the future if 99% of the people don't even realize they're on the subway.
I think it's also, in part, subtly caused by our narrow understanding of the word "technology" to be "software made in Silicon Valley" as opposed to a broader "tool that serves a human purpose."
If we broadened that understanding, we could see engineers applying their skills to problems that would be just as lucrative, but could be more legitimately called "innovative" than working on the umpteenth marginal "tech" app.
And Harvard is a way for elites to network, but that's not merely arbitrary signalling - it depends on how those elites are selected.
That China hasn't solved the economic calculation problem yet is plain to see, and I don't think that's quite what Thiel is saying. He's talking about the principles and the mindset behind the support for AI, as well as its ramifications in terms of the type of society it can produce asymptotically.
No one said Harvard's signalling was arbitrary. It's a very clear signal. Thiel's point is that that signal has nothing to do with "higher education".
My assertion is that it can't though. That's because the complexity of even a fairly small entity makes the number of the particles in the universe look infinitesimal.
"In 2016, Adam Yedidia and Scott Aaronson obtained the first (explicit) upper bound on the minimum n for which Σ(n) is unprovable in ZFC. To do so they constructed a 7910-state Turing machine whose behavior cannot be proven based on the usual axioms of set theory (Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory with the axiom of choice), under reasonable consistency hypotheses (stationary Ramsey property). This was later reduced to 1919 states, with the dependency on the stationary Ramsey property eliminated."
To me, granted I have only a vague idea of the meaning of the above, that's saying that "solving the economic calculation problem" (society having more than 1919 moving parts) is not just beyond physical limits of the amount of matter in the universe that could be used for computation. It's not just beyond the physical laws that we think we know, like a FTL spaceship would be. It's beyond the most fundamental math we have. To me, that's like a third order of infinite impossibility.
And as far as Harvard goes, how can the interaction between students and faculty have nothing to do with higher education? What else is higher education? In every school, people learn from each other, and they interact more than with people at other schools.
My point was that they are not using AI to do the sort of central planning that earlier communists failed at and that economists eventually decided was infeasible. And I don't think there's any prospect of that happening in the forseeable future either.
I don't know what to say about the Harvard quote, but with the recent admissions scandal implicating that rich people are buying their way into premium universities and into higher SAT scores, there's some nugget of truth to criticizing the current situation.
I wonder if universities aren't suffering Goodheart's Law: "Once a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a useful measure." That is to say, once we measured that a university degree lead to higher incomes, better life outcomes, etc. and then we started pressuring everyone to get a four year degree...did it cease to be a good measure for quality employees, creative thinking, problem solving skills, etc?
I think there's something to that. When everyone is obsessed with getting the degree, and they're not worried about the practical application of their knowledge, they are doing the world a disservice. And we're all suffering for it, through higher debt and inflated expectations.
20% of the world's prisoners are in America. Is spying a consistent Orwellian feature of American capitalism?
We don't know how the improvements in AI are going to play out - it is very easy to see how it could turn out that these are the missing technologies to make a totalitarian state the most productive equilibrium, or communism, or anything else.
China also loves cheap r/c cars, does that make them communist?
The talk was more about scaling (Finance, Tech, Cargo, and People) with some insights regarding which the US has a chance to compete effectively against China (only Finance and Tech) and some (related?) advice to the left and the right in the US:
Left: Move beyond identity politics.
Right: Rethink the doctrine of American exceptionalism.
Thought provoking commentary, but mistitled as "The End of the Computer Age".
His fascination with "scale" is interesting. Some of the problems we have today come from the conquest of scale. It used to be that big companies couldn't get out of their own way. This limited how big a company could get before smaller competitors were more efficient. With computers and networks, businesses can now be scaled to national, if not planetary, scale. And we get a very small, and shrinking, number of big players. One Google. One Amazon. One Facebook. One Alibaba. One Tencent. Three big US telcos. Three big US banks.
One thing I feel as though we lack is more visionary entrepreneurs in some of these other fields (or if we don't, they're not very visible). In the early 20th century, you had breakthrough after breakthrough. You had Edison, Tesla, Einstein, Ford, Disney, Eastman (Kodak), Sarnoff (radio), Fisher (washing machine), the Wright Bros, and on and on...so many breakthrough entrepreneurs, scientists and technologists in such a small window of time.
If we tried to point to people alive today who have the same impact as the ones mentioned above, we'd probably name Musk. In the early 20th century, we had hundreds of Elon Musks.
If you want revolutionary entrepreneurs in our era, this list is a fairly good summary: http://startupsusa.org/fortune500/ 2017 Fortune 500 "Companies Founded by Immigrants or the Children of Immigrants, by Company, Founder" . Jobs, Brin, Yang, Huang, Bezos and more
At the Manhattan Institute? The place that loudly complains that tax payer financed efforts are really just exploitation?
Right, and the super rich cannot wait to relieve us tax payers from our plight and pay all those bills for us. Otherwise, what would be the point in never paying any taxes?