Bio

Robin Hanson

“Flicking through Robin’s thoughts … you start to feel the ground shifting beneath you” (UK Observer, 26Mar95 )

Do you find it hard to summarize yourself in a few words? Me too.

But I love the above quote. I have a passion, a sacred quest, to understand everything, and to save the world. I am addicted to “viewquakes”, insights which dramatically change my world view. I loved science fiction as a child, and have studied physics, philosophy, artificial intelligence, economics, and political science — all fields full of such insights. Unfortunately, this also tempted me to leave subjects after mastering their major insights.

I also have a rather critical style. I beat hard on new ideas, seek out critics, and then pledge my allegiance only to those still left standing. In conversation, I prefer to identify a claim at issue, and then focus on analyzing it, rather than the usual quick tours past hundreds of issues. I have always asked questions, even when I was very young.

I have little patience with those whose thinking is sloppy, small, or devoid of abstraction. And I’m not a joiner; I rebel against groups with “our beliefs”, especially when members must keep criticisms private, so as not to give ammunition to “them.”  I love to argue one on one, and common beliefs are not important for friendship — instead I value honesty and passion.

In ’77 I began college (UCI) in engineering, but switched to physics to really understand the equations.  Two years in, when physics repeated the same concepts with more math,  I studied physics on my own, skipping the homework but acing the exams.  To dig deeper, I did philosophy of science grad school (U Chicago), switched back to physics, and was then seduced to Silicon Valley.

By day I did artificial intelligence (Lockheed, NASA), and by night I studied on my own (Stanford) and hung with Xanadu’s libertarian web pioneers and futurists.  I had a hobby of institution design; my best idea was idea futures, now known as prediction markets.  Feeling stuck without contacts and credentials, I went for a Ph.D. in social science (Caltech).

The physicist in me respected only econ experiments at first, but I was soon persuaded econ theory was full of insight, and did a theory thesis, and a bit of futurism on the side.  I landed a health policy postdoc, where I was shocked to learn of medicine’s impotency.  I finally landed a tenure-track job (GMU), and also found the wide-ranging intellectual conversations I’d lacked since Xanadu.

My Policy Analysis Market project hit the press shit fan in ’03, burying me in media attention for a while, and helping to kickstart the prediction market industry, which continues to grow and for which I continue to consult.  The press flap also tipped me over the tenure edge in ’05; my colleagues liked my being denounced by Senators. :)  Tenure allowed me to maintain my diverse research agenda, and to start blogging at Overcoming Bias in November ’06, about the same time I became a research associate at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.  Recently I’ve become chief scientist at Consensus Point.

My more professional bio is here.