Open Thread

This is our monthly place to discuss relevant topics that haven’t appeared in recent posts.

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  • Professor Hanson,

    Is it possible extract from pricing data that different populations of people (people with a similar utility function) purchase a particular “fungible” good. For example with watches people buy them for different reasons. The person who buys a Rolex most often buys the watch to fulfill a different need then the person who buys the Seiko.

    I expect that the market price on Rolexes is dominated by the population of people who bid on them not the overall set of people who bid on watches.

    The Rolex is a different good then the Seiko since it’s market price is dominated by a population of people with a different utility function the Seiko bidders.

    Is there a way to without obtaining information on the products to identify which populations they belong to? Without knowing anything about watches I would like to be able to learn that Timex and Seiko serve the same population while Omega and Rolex serve another.

    I think most of peoples complaints about price signals come from them taking guidance from signals produced by people with different utility functions then there own. If I know that both Timex and Seiko market prices are dominated by the population of people who share my utility function then I can without doing research know that the more money I spend the more function I will receive.

    Is this a dead end? Is the pricing data to far extracted from the users that created it to provide information about there idea of utility. Is there any other abstract data that could be used? Perhaps product margins? What area of study examines how populations can dominate market prices? I have looked at price discrimination but not exactly found what I am looking for. I have seen a few references to signal extraction techniques.

    Thank you for any insight you can give.

  • retired phlebotomist

    1) Smell may be a quantum phenomenon:

    Doesn’t Penrose think much the same about consciousness? If right, how would that effect your estimated emulation timetable?

    2) I think I remember you linking to Bostrom’s essay about life on Mars being a very bad sign. You seem convinced. Recently you estimated the likelihood of human survival beyond 10k years as greater than 50%.
    Still think so?

  • retired phlebotomist

    A reading suggestion for those who find signalling and status fascinating: the comedies of Thomas Berger.
    “The Houseguest” in particular.

  • Trevin Peterson

    Professor Hanson,

    I read your article on the next great singularity, with much interest. Artificial intelligence is often looked to as the next evolution of technology, without consideration of its real impacts on the economy.

    I have often thought about when and if the downfall of capitalism will occur. Marx predicted a time when control over capital would be a prerequisite for the advancement or improvement of technology. He predicted that monopolies would become more and more concentrated because they would be in control of the means of production and have an absolute advantage in the R&D necessary for the next stages of technology.

    I never took this prediction seriously; It seemed to me that Marx grossly overestimated the efficiency of bureaucracies. I always tried to imagine a piece of capital able to block entrepreneurs from designing its successor. Could it be that AI will be that technology and that Marx was right, but way off on the time period?

  • Jason Malloy

    Dr. Hanson,

    The nested comment structure makes it difficult to locate and read newer comments in long threads. Can you consider adding a sorting option like Will Wilkinson’s blog?

    • Eric Johnson

      To me, nesting is a madness that reveals the frailty of the human mind. I take it that what Jason’s saying would allow us to have it either way individually, as we like.

    • Noumenon

      Alternatively, if you could subscribe to a thread you could be sure of seeing all new comments, while first-time readers would get the benefit of nesting. (I love nesting.)

    • I rather like nesting, I think the value of seeing responses together with the original comment outweighs the irritation of having to check for new responses. What I really hate is when Hacker News reorders the top level comments based on voting. That makes it really hard to find new comments to a popular post.

  • Charlie
  • Noumenon

    I thought you would post more about Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory by Randall Collins. I was expecting a post about the various groups children sort themselves into in grade school. I thought you’d say something like “Do we not make this common knowledge because it’s too painful for us to acknowledge our kids are not dominant?”

  • mjgeddes

    This is my ‘position statement’ on the Anthropic/Identity puzzles; I make 5 main conjectures with links to papers;

    (1) Talk of consciousness should be dispensed with and replaced with the language of information theory (complexity, entropy etc) , for an example of a theory along these lines see:

    ‘An Information Integration Theory of Consciousness’

    (2) When reasoning about subjective experience, a more general theory of rationality than Bayesian Induction is needed, the whole notion of ‘anticipation of experience’ is simply incoherent, because Bayes is insufficient

    (3) The required generalization of Bayes involves translating it to the information theory framework (1) by integrating it with analogical inference, so Bayesian Induction merely becomes a special case of categorization, and ‘Similarity’ turns out to be more fundamental than ‘probability’, see:

    ‘Integrating Analogical Inference with Bayesian Causal Models’

    ‘Exemplars, Prototypes, Similarities and Rules in Category Representation: An Example of Hierarchical Bayesian Analysis’

    (4) The notion of ‘utility’ also needs to be generalized to convert to the information theory framework (1), this is done by defining a new type of ‘complexity’ based on aesthetics, see below paper on neuroaesthetics for some criteria of what bitstrings the brain regards as ‘interesting’,

    ‘The Science of Art’

    (5) After steps (1)-(4), we have a new framework for dealing with subjective experience;
    (a) epistemological reasoning involves determination of which reference class we fall into (categorization, similarity measure), ‘anticipation’ and ‘probability’ has nothing to do with it, and (b) Reflective decision making (reasoning about our own valuation algorithm) involves information integration via the new complexity measure – ‘expected utility’ has nothing to do with it.

    Have a good Christmas, see y’all around the galaxy!

  • Dave

    I’d love to hear about your theory of “dealism”, which was mentioned in Tyler’s “In Praise of Robin Hanson” post. Is the idea that rational goal-focused people looking to make mutually beneficial deals would (under plausible assumptions) agree to some version of preference utilitarianism (perhaps similar to the economists’ notion of efficiency)?

  • Karthik

    Hello Dr. Hanson,

    I am not sure what sort of questions qualify as ‘relevant questions’. But I am interested in seeing you write a post on the thought processes involved in deciding whether to procreate or not. In today’s world of 6 odd billion people, there is no real threat to the survival of the species although one’s special genes may die out if one doesn’t procreate. I can’t seem to find any rational justification for procreation by the economically well off since there is an overcompensating rate of procreation by the lesser economically developed nations. And unless one has evidence about racial superiority, there doesn’t seem to be any incentive to procreate as an educated and reasonably well-to-do individual. I’ll look forward to your analysis given that your bio suggests you’ve indulged in procreation yourself.

  • Aron

    Can anyone do better for official OB theme song: ?

  • Jonas

    I have a layman physics question about causality.

    I don`t study science, just a bit of sociology and arts. I don`t understand quantum physics, nor do I really understand Einsteins theory of special relativity..

    I came a long this question, resulting from a thought experiment. I don`t know if this thought experiment was already labeled or thought up by somebody else.

    I apologize, if I accidently plagiarize.

    Though experiment

    There are two observers in different locations in space witnessing a chain of events: explosion (A) and explosion (B). Let`s say the explosions only create sound waves, but no light waves.
    The causalities are unknown:

    A could cause B
    B could cause A
    A and B could happen simultaneously


    Is there a constellation, in which observer (1) hears A before B and observer (2) hears B before A even though A and B happen simultaneously?

    If you say A causes B, than A has to happen before B. There has to be a time difference because the information from A exploding has to reach B, before B explodes.

    Is there a constellation, in which observer (1) hears A and B simultaneously and observer (2) hears B before A, even though A causes B?