Open Thread

This is our monthly place to discuss related topics that have not appeared in recent posts.

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  • TheBrett

    I’ve been wondering about implants versus attachable devices – think having some kind of retinal implant in your eye as opposed to wearing some future version of Google Glass or its contacts equivalent. Do you think the body rejection issues that many implants run into (plus the need to go under the knife for implantation and repair) would keep most people doing the less-capable but more-removable attachable devices? Especially if you had to take medication with the implants for the rest of your life.

    I’m thinking in the next 100 years or so. Way out, who knows.

    • Cahokia

      The FDA militates against the existence of implantable devices for the foreseeable future. If it’s not there to treat a disease, forget about it.

      • TheBrett

        That’s a mild bummer, although it probably does save people from more infections than they might otherwise get. And it doesn’t seem to stop those people who insert magnets into their hands.

  • praxtime

    You properly took the movie Her to task in a recent post as not realistic. Completely on board. But it seems voice interaction itself has huge possibilities, despite being “dumb” and not true AI. Asking your phone to book tickets, answering questions, controlling your TV, tech support. And of course people could bond ELIZA style even with something like that. My question here is whether you see voice interaction with computers as an explosive area of near term economic growth. Non-AI voice interaction. So where Siri and Google Now will be in 2-4 years.

    • Doug

      Speech recognition has been an area of AI that has traditionally always moved much slower than predicted or expected. I’m not even talking about NLP, I’m just talking about straight up converting audio to text. If you can’t do that reliably and accurately than voice will never supplant typing/clicking methods as the primary computer interface.

      25 years ago people expected voice recognition to get to this point in 5 years. And so did people 20 years ago, 15 years ago and 5 years ago. To get Siri to its now currently crappy level took nearly 15 years of development on a single project. Now maybe we’re finally hitting the bend in the curve where the voice recognition cracks. But based on historical expectations and reality I’d bet against it.

  • Doug

    I’d like a Hansonian perspective on the coming end to the golden age of antibiotics. Do those who subscribe to Robin’s views on medicine think the threat of antibiotic resistance is oversold? People are a lot healthier now than 100 years ago. Conventional wisdom says that’s largely due to modern medicine, a very large part of which is antibiotics. Hansonian wisdom says that medicine is only a minor contributor to modern healthiness.

    I remember reading (can’t remember where) Robin say somewhere that the introduction of antibiotics actually only resulted in minor increases to life expectancy. And that antibiotics at most can only explain a small proportion of 20th century life expectancy increases. Additionally modern humans are more robust than their ancestors (taller, smarter, fewer nutrient deficiencies, etc.). It would seem that untreated infections should have much lower mortality rates today than they did in pre-antibiotic times.

    Given all this it seems to me that antibiotic resistance is not anywhere near the disaster that it’s predicted to be. Anyone else with Hansonian views on medicine care to disagree?

    • IMASBA

      It’s true that vaccines and general hygiene probably played a larger role than antibiotics but if all bacteria became resistant to antibiotics and we found no alternative treatment then STDs would be a serious threat (the usual rules of hygiene are ignored when it comes to sex and people are more promiscuous than 100 years ago, plus they more often marry people from far away places).

      • Doug

        Excellent point about STDs. I didn’t consider those. However while you’re right about antibiotic resistance increasing STD rates, its overall impact on life expectancy and mortality rates will probably be negligible.

        The vast majority of bacterial STDs are acquired by young, healthy people. Bacterial infection primarily exercises mortality upon children or the elderly. Young adults have the immune system to fight off infection.

        The overall death rate from untreated gonorrhea and chlamydia is historically about 1%. And of course you’d expect antibiotic resistance to be lower since first modern first world humans are healthier and have better immune systems. As well as they’ll still be some form of treatment, both in the form of pre-antibiotic treatment (like silver nitrate) as well as managing symptoms.

        Overall based on current infection rates and using 1% as an upper bound for mortality, resistant STDs would add at most 30,000 US deaths a year. That’s against 2.4 million deaths a year. So the overall impact on aggregate health would be small.

      • IMASBA

        I wouldn’t be so sure everything would be fine if there was a new syphilis outbreak in a post-antibiotics world. A TBC outbreak could also be a major problem and then there’s all the nasty bacteria evolving in industrial farm animals. It’s not like it would be like the middle ages but I think it would become a lot more common to have lost family or friends to infections and epidemics.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      One major thing antibiotics have done is enabled more surgeries. If surgeries are a major source of iatrogenic medicine, that could partially explain why antibiotics haven’t helped that much.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      I haven’t seen numerical forecasts for the “disaster predicted”. It would be a substantial loss, well worth avoiding. But it wouldn’t cut average lifespans in half or anything remotely like that.

  • NickW

    If you want to classify status as dominance or prestige, then monitor the interaction between the individual and society.

    Society gives dominant people opportunities to pay more whereas it gives prestigious people opportunities to pay less. It is far more noble to get something for free than it is to pay a lot for it.

  • Robert Koslover

    Milton Friedman said that you can have open borders or you can have the welfare state, but you cannot have both. Can anyone offer a logical argument to assert that he was wrong?

    • IMASBA

      Obviously he would be wrong in a more egalitarian world (if countries are all more or less equally rich and all have a welfare state you can have open borders and a welfare state).

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Your “grabber” theory of redistribution has some plausible ev-psych intuition, but evidence against it is that some people support taxing the rich more even if they don’t expect to get more available to redistribute.

  • ZacharyBartsch

    Might it be that coalitions serve a productive function? You often point out how they harm productivity, but certainly, they may elicit productivity from some sources that are not elicited by true evaluations or strict performance competition. Maybe coalitions increase morale due to familiarity or due to a feeling of increased job security (knowing that you are secure with even marginally lower output). Plausibly, many firms aren’t the most fit for the current moment. But maybe coalitions give them intransigence and staying power in order to survive until times when they might be more fit. Schumpeter said that an instantaneously price & quantity adjusting market would be less stable and could wreak havoc. Might this ‘stability’ be a useful function of coalitions?