The New Fear of Intimacy

I have seen this playing out already, so this is  less mad than it might initially seem:

I have this feeling that people are going to become more and more wary of direct face-to-face attention because it will seem like its wasted on them if it’s not mediated, not captured somehow in social networks where it has measurable value. I imagine this playing out as a kind of fear of intimacy as it was once experienced—private unsharable moments that will seem creepier and creepier because no one else can bear witness to their significance, translate them into social distinction. Recognition within private unmediated spaces will be unsought after, the “real you” won’t be there but elsewhere, in the networks.

via Vagaries of attention < PopMatters.

Something New for 30 Days

One of my favorite short talks at this year’s TED: Matt Cutts on trying something new for 30 days.


Adaptive Advantages of Overconfidence in War

From a new paper on overconfidence’s adaptive advantages in warfare:

Overconfidence has long been considered a cause of war. Like other decision-making biases, overconfidence seems detrimental because it increases the frequency and costs of fighting. However, evolutionary biologists have proposed that overconfidence may also confer adaptive advantages: increasing ambition, resolve, persistence, bluffing opponents, and winning net payoffs from risky opportunities despite occasional failures. We report the results of an agent-based model of inter-state conflict, which allows us to evaluate the performance of different strategies in competition with each other. Counter-intuitively, we find that overconfident states predominate in the population at the expense of unbiased or underconfident states. Overconfident states win because: (1) they are more likely to accumulate resources from frequent attempts at conquest; (2) they are more likely to gang up on weak states, forcing victims to split their defences; and (3) when the decision threshold for attacking requires an overwhelming asymmetry of power, unbiased and underconfident states shirk many conflicts they are actually likely to win. These “adaptive advantages” of overconfidence may, via selection effects, learning, or evolved psychology, have spread and become entrenched among modern states, organizations and decision-makers. This would help to explain the frequent association of overconfidence and war, even if it no longer brings benefits today.

via PLoS ONE: Fortune Favours the Bold: An Agent-Based Model Reveals Adaptive Advantages of Overconfidence in War.

The Confluence of Technology & Finance

Andrew Lo of MIT on the confluence of technology & finance, and what is has wrought, for good and … much less good. And, yes, John Thain is in this too.

Moore’s Law, Energy Efficiency & Computing

Combining themes in energy efficiency and exponential laws to talk about the future of computing. From MIT:

Answers to the Fiscal Exam

Okay, enough time has gone by, so some answers to that fiscal exam I posted here a few days ago.

1-(d)  2-(b)  3-(d)  4-(c)  5-(c)  6-(b)  7-(d)

Science, Superstars & Stocks: Is Everything Getting Harder?

Is everything getting harder? There is a growing meme that things are getting more difficult, from science, to drug discovery, to investing, to the top levels of sports.

Two quick graphs to make the point. First, in drug discovery, where we are seeing a decline in new molecular entities per dollar spent.

2011 07 01 0608

Next, in basic science, where we can see the same “difficult discovery” problem taking hold over time in various disciplines.

Science metrics

What, if anything, is the world trying to tell us? On some level it seems that things are getting harder — it is tougher to be a dominant player in sports given global talent pools, better training, more mimicry, etc. Similarly, science in many important areas does seem stalled, with progress proceeding glacially, whether it is drug discovery, or fundamental physics, or energy.

One way to look at this is that we have done the easy things. We have found the findable things that were easy to find, from science to investing, and we have lived through the era where physical talent and some training made you globally dominant in sports, and now things get very difficult.

The preceding is superficially true, but too pat.

Things have never felt easy at the time. Scientific discoveries never made themselves. The cost of discovery must be weighted against societal wealth; the pool from which athletes and top investors emerge has always been competitive. Granted, sports and investing are unusual in that the actions of participants makes the fields themselves more difficult by changing the nature of the domains — competing away easy alpha, so to speak. But progress in science has always been stop-start, with many plateaus, worthless forays, and box canyons, which causes progress to go to those best able to be clever, not just those with the most money or best lab (or training, or assets under management).

Yes, things are getting harder, and they will continue to do so. And I’m not in the camp that says we have an inexhaustible supply of anything just waiting for human ingenuity to be applied. But it’s worth reminding ourselves, especially with the current spate of stories about declining innovation, that we need to be careful about where the real scarcity lies — cleverness, not capital.

Rainier Avalanche Vid

Nice catch by someone who got a Rainier avalanche on video this week:

Jim Grant Says We All Have on Financial Beer Goggles

Jim Grant banging on about interest rates isn’t new, but when he deadpans a “beer googles” metaphor it’s worth a look.

Twitter Digest: 2011-06-29

  • Barking dogs, recent plastic surgery victims, social x-rays, and aging hippies: I must be on a flight to Aspen. ->
  • Just saw three people test whether screaming at airport gate attendants gets you tossed from airport Answer: Still does. ->
  • Remarkable cautionary reminder: Myspace to be sold for $35m. http://dthin.gs/mALEFb (via @cdixon) ->