Monthly Archives: April 2012

Henson On Ems

Keith Henson, of whom I’ve long been a fan, has a new article where he imagines our descendants as fragmenting Roman-Empire-like into distinct cultures, each ~300 meter spheres holding ~30 million ems each ~1 million times faster than a human, using ~1TW of power, in the ocean for cooling. The 300m radius comes from a max two subjective seconds of communication delay, and the 30 million number comes from assuming a shell of ~10cm cubes, each an em. (Quotes below)

The 10cm size could be way off, but the rest is reasonable, at least given Henson’s key assumptions that 1) competition to seem sexy would push ems to run as fast as feasible, and 2) the scale of em “population centers” and culture is set by the distance at which talk suffers a two subjective seconds delay.

Alas those are pretty unreasonable assumptions. Ems don’t reproduce via sex, and would be selected for not devoting lots of energy to sex. Yes, sex is buried deep in us, so ems would still devote some energy to it. But not so much as to make sex the overwhelming factor that sets em speeds. Not given em econ competitive pressures and the huge selection factors possible. I’m sure it is sexy today to spend money like a billionaire, but most people don’t because they can’t afford to. Since running a million times faster should cost a million times more, ems might not be able to afford that either.

Also, the scale at which we can talk without delay has just not been that important historically in setting our city and culture scales. We had integrated cultures even when talking suffered weeks of delay, we now have many cultures even though we can all talk without much delay, and city scales have been set more by how far we can commute in an hour than by communication delays. So while ems might well have a unit of organization corresponding to their easy-talk scale, important interactions should also exist at larger scales.

Those promised quotes from Henson’s article: Continue reading "Henson On Ems" »

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Hail The Radiation Model

We have a revolution in how to best predict transport and commuting rates:

The gravity law is the prevailing framework with which to predict population movement, cargo shipping volume, and inter-city phone calls, as well as bilateral trade flows between nations. Despite its widespread use, it relies on adjustable parameters that vary from region to region and suffers from known analytic inconsistencies. Here we introduce a … radiation model [that] predicts mobility patterns in good agreement with mobility and transport patterns observed in a wide range of phenomena. (more)

The gravity law assumes travel is proportional to the product of powers of the to and from populations, divided by some function of the distance between them:

The gravity law assumes that the number of individuals Tij that move between locations i and j per unit time is proportional to some power of the population of the source (mi) and destination (nj) locations, and decays with the distance rij between them as

Tij = mia njb / f(rij)

where a and b are adjustable exponents and the … function f(rij) is chosen to fit the empirical data.

The radiation model fits better by instead looking at how many people live closer than the destination location:

Step one, an individual seeks job offers from all counties, including his/her home county. The number of employment opportunities in each county is proportional to the resident population. … We capture the benefits of [each] potential employment opportunity with a single number, z, [independently and] randomly chosen. … Step two, the individual chooses the closest job to his/her home, whose benefits z are higher than the best offer available in his/her home county. … We denote with sij the total population in the circle of radius rij centred at i (excluding the source and destination population). … The radiation model is

Tij = Ti mi nj / (mi + sij)(mi + nj + sij)

… Ti … is the total number of commuters who start their journey from location i.

Amazingly, this better fitting radiation model only depends on distance indirectly, via population density. It suggests that while distance matters, it is almost never an overwhelming consideration. In the modern world, while political barriers are often insurmountable, distance is detail.

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Near Cares More

We care more about things in near view, vs. far view. So getting you to see your future self in a more near mode helps you to care about helping that future self:

Tessa Price, a 22-year-old college senior, is gazing into a mirror in a virtual-reality laboratory at Stanford University. Looking back at her is Tessa Price—at the age of 68. Staring into a mirror today and seeing yourself as you will look in the year 2057 is unnerving. But that may be just what it takes to shock Americans into saving more. … In one experiment, young people who saw their elderly avatars reported they would save twice as much as those who didn’t. In another, students averaging 21 years of age viewed avatars of themselves that smiled when they saved more and frowned when they saved less. Those whose avatars were morphed to retirement age said they would save 30% more than those whose avatars weren’t aged. … Getting specific. … When people spend three to five minutes imagining and writing down how they would feel in a comfortable and worry-free retirement, they become roughly 25 percentage points more likely to increase their savings on the spot. (more)

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Consulate Care

Here’s another idea for medical reform: consulate care. Let countries like Sweden, France, etc. with approved national health care systems have bigger consulates, and open them up to paying customers for medical services. For example, you could sign up for Swedish Care, and when needed you’d go to their consulate to get medical care as if you were living in Sweden.

Now we might not approve consulate care for say North Korea or Uganda, but surely most developed nations are good enough. We don’t issue travel warnings suggesting people not travel to Sweden, for fear of getting sick there. So why not let folks travel to a Sweden nearby for their medical care?

Since most other nations spend far less than the US on medicine, consulate care should be a lot cheaper. And since those other nations seem to suffer no net health loss from their cheaper care, consulate care should be no less healthy.

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Em Econ 101 Talk

Here are slides and audio from my Friday talk. The abstract again:

Em Econ 101 – My best guess for the next revolution on the scale of the industrial, or farming, or human revolutions, is artificial intelligence in the form of whole brain emulations, or “ems.” Many have considered ems from technical and philosophical viewpoints, but I consider em economics. That is, I try to work out in as much social detail as possible a relatively-likely reference scenario set modestly far into a post-em world.

Halycon had a very high quality audience – it was a special pleasure to speak there. The talk was also filmed – I’ll post that here if/when there is a link.

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Ban Election Arguments?

While Intrade has betting markets on the US presidential election, they are unregulated and of questionable US legality. Nadex went through the expensive legal hoops to apply for permission to run a regulated market. Last week:

The CFTC determined that the contracts involve gaming and are contrary to the public interest. (more)


It could unduly influence election results. … the contracts could run afoul of the election process if traders had financial incentives to vote for particular candidates. (more)

They still allow election betting at the Iowa Electronic Markets, where stakes are limited to $500. They still let people work for campaigns and administrations, which gives them financial incentives to vote for certain candidates. And they let candidates take positions favoring some industries, occupations, and locations, over others, which gives people financial incentives to vote for and against candidates.

We also let people tell other people which candidates they favor, which gives people non-financial incentives to vote for those candidates later. And since every bet for a candidate is matched with a bet against that candidate, whenever a betting market gives anyone a financial incentive to vote for a candidate, it at the same time gives someone else a financial incentive to vote against that candidate. Why are all the rest of these “due” influences, while bets are “undue” influences?

Paula Dwyer argues:

Naked credit default swaps on Greek sovereign debt (buying a CDS without owning the underlying debt) are no more than a bet on a Greek default. Will the CFTC be barring them, too? (more)

Law and Economics professors Eric Posner and Glen Weyl support the CFTC:

Financial instruments that serve primarily as a means of speculation rather than hedging should be banned … Suppose that two individuals, neither of whom uses or produces oil, harbor different opinions about the future price of oil and decide to wager on it. Both parties willingly participate, because they think they’re each getting the best of their confused counterparty. Clearly, both of them cannot gain from this transaction, and the wager itself creates rather than reduces risk. While each party thinks it is getting the better of the other, both agree that on average both of them will be worse off because on average they will win and lose on the same number of bets, and both of their incomes will be less smooth and predictable on account of their wagering. As a consequence, this sort of speculation is socially harmful. …

In controlled and appropriate contexts, [gambling] can be a source of entertainment for people who are aware of and willing to accept the potential losses. But participants in financial markets are usually seeking financial security rather than entertainment, and they typically have little sense of the risks they are taking on. … A second potential benefit of allowing trading in derivatives is the information that they provide to market participants. The knowledge of the likely outcome of the presidential election provided by the wisdom of the crowds is useful for planning by businesses, individuals, and governments. But that information is only valuable to the extent that it enables real economic decisions to be made more effectively.

Consider: why should we let people argue on elections? Similar to the above, one could say:

People mainly argue in the hope of winning arguments, thinking that they are taking advantage of confused opponents. While each side hopes that further events and discussions will reveal them to have been more in the right, both sides understand that this can’t happen for both of them. Yes, people might argue just to have fun, but election pundits seem serious – wanting more to prove the other side wrong. And most people who argue politics seem to have little understanding of what they are talking about. Yes, arguments can produce useful info for others, but the value of the info produced in election arguments is small compared to the time lost arguing. Thus we should ban arguments on elections.

Election arguers and bettors both seem motivated by a similar mix of enjoying the process and hoping to win. But the info produced by bettors is far more persuasive, reliable, and useful – you have far better reasons to believe betting market odds than whatever the apparent winner of a political argument has claimed.

You might counter that people sometimes argue about who should win an election, rather than who will win. But betting markets can collect info on that topic as well – we can bet on outcomes after the election conditional on who wins the election. These sort of markets would be enormously helpful to tell voters about which candidate will best promote health, peace, or prosperity. Yet such markets are now banned because they might “unduly” influence elections, or let people “waste” their time “arguing” about elections. Heaven forbid we should waste time figuring out which candidate would actually help us more.

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Donors Affiliate

When you donate to a charity, you not only give them resources to further their aims, you also affiliate with others who donate to the same charity. Because of this, you might not donate to a charity you otherwise like because you dislike other donors. And because of that, charities may refuse donations from disliked people.

Think that doesn’t apply to you? If you donate to Planned Parenthood, they think it applies to you – they refused a $500,000 donation by Tucker Max. Why? Because:

PP: “I guess it’s the way you write about women.”

Tucker “What do you mean? I’m not negative towards women in my writing. Women love my writing; more than half my fans are female.”

PP: “Well…there are certain jokes you make we feel can be perceived in a certain negative manner.”

Tucker: “So because I made a fat girl joke you won’t accept a $500,000 donation?”

PP: “I wouldn’t characterize it that way.”

Tucker: “How would you then? I’m listening and I want your best quote.”

PP: “We don’t feel it would be appropriate, given Planned Parenthood’s mission and your body of work, to accept your donation.”

Tucker: “What? I thought Planned Parenthood’s mission was about helping women, not passing judgment on humor.” (more)

It seems Planned Parenthood thinks that by accepting Tucker’s large donation they would discourage even more donations by others.

Would you refuse to donate to a charity because someone you disliked had also donated? What if you could be assured this donor had no influence on what the charity did with its money?

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Happy Is Far

Happy is far, and far stereotypes more, pays less attention to detail, cares less, and feels higher status:

Very high levels of positive feelings predict risk-taking behaviors, excess alcohol and drug consumption, binge eating, and may lead us to neglect threats. … Those who early in their lives reported the highest life satisfaction (for example, judging it at 5 on a 5-point scale) years later reported lower income than those who felt slightly less merry when young. What’s more, they dropped out of school earlier. … A group of American college freshmen who in 1976 claimed to be very cheerful. Surveyed again when they were in their late 30s, they earned, on average, almost $3,500 a year less than their slightly less cheerful peers. …

When we are sad, we think in a more systematic manner. Sad people are attentive to details and externally oriented, while happy people tend to make snap judgments that may reflect racial or sex stereotyping. … Those in a happy mood were more likely to find a fellow student named “Juan Garcia” guilty of beating up a roommate than one identified as “John Garner.” The control group was pretty much equally divided between “Juan” and “John.” … Some of the students received a picture of a middle-aged, bearded man; others of a young woman in a T-shirt. Even though the essays were identical, those students who had been induced to feel happy judged the man’s work more competent than the woman’s. Their non-induced colleagues declared both essays to be of equal quality. …

Cheerful people are easier to deceive, couldn’t detect lies as easily as those in negative moods and couldn’t tell a thief from an honest person. … Feeling good makes people more selfish (if asked to divide raffle tickets between themselves and others, they’ll keep more in their pockets than sad people) and worse at defending their opinions (they produce weaker, less detailed arguments). (more)

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On Moral Hypocrisy

A short review of types of moral hypocrisy:

Although individuals might easily recall worthy behavior, unethical incidents might “disappear” from their memory. … Even when people recognize their ethical inconsistencies, there are various ways to redefine unethical behavior as morally acceptable or at least as not entirely unethical. For example, participants can interpret not cheating to the maximum extent as maintaining ethicality or as resisting obvious temptations. … They can reframe taking a newspaper without paying the full price as paying something despite the absence of external enforcement measures. … People may justify their actions by reference to norms (“everyone is doing it”), to external pressures (“if I do not do it, I’ll be fired”), or to altruism and a greater cause (“this is what it takes to ensure people do not lose their jobs”). Other factors attenuating perceived unethical behavior include lack of intent, lack of clear harm, or absence of a concrete victim. … redefinitions, reinterpretations, and justifications allow one’s own small deviations from ethical standards to go unnoticed and give way to gradual relaxation of one’s ethical code and moral criteria.

That is from a paper focused on one particular type: Continue reading "On Moral Hypocrisy" »

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An Info King

I was recently told about a manager of a ~500 person bank division decades ago. Seems this manager created an interesting info equilibrium. In his equilibrium, this manager could call anyone in the division at any time and get frank answers about their work. The manager would not tell anyone about the call, and he would viciously punish both anyone who ever lied to him in such a call, and anyone who punished anyone for giving frank call answers. So when you went to present something to this manager, you knew he might have called any of your subordinates for frank answers about your presentation.

It probably wouldn’t work to have an equilibrium where there are many people with this power to call anyone and get a frank answer. And it wouldn’t work if the organization was so big that the manager knew little about each person he might call. But at least within certain scale limitations, this is a way to cut through information barriers to get frank assessments on key issues into the hands of a pivotal decision-maker.

So would it work to nest this structure two levels deep? That is, could 200,000 people be organized into 400 divisions each like this, where the head of the whole thing could always call any division head and get frank answers?

Added 3Apr: My anonymous source elaborates:

People gave frank answers because they were seeking credit approval to credit submissions.

The submissions were the outcome of protracted and detailed documented process of sequential deliberation. They were also subject to annual audit and also specialist lending inspection.Verification was embedded into the process.

These were complex high value transactions that justified a significant investment of time.

The info king was the officer with the boards’ delegated discretion. The transactions were complex and/or high value and required elements of judgement.

The info king knew that the issue, given the high stakes for the transaction sponsors, was not fraud (because the verification processes protected against this), the issue was bias and nuance, and that required a subtler verification process.

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