- About (+highlights)

About (+highlights)

I am Director of AI Strategy (formerly CEO) of Open Philanthropy and co-founder of GiveWell, but all opinions are my own.

Most of the posts on this blog are written at least a month before they're posted, sometimes much longer. I try to post things that are worth posting even so, hence the name "Cold Takes."

If you have suggested links/books/etc., please use this form to send them in.

Here are highlights so far, which should give a sense for what the blog is like.

The "most important century" series

The "most important century" series argues that the 21st century could be the most important century ever for humanity, via the development of advanced AI systems that could dramatically speed up scientific and technological advancement, getting us more quickly than most people imagine to a deeply unfamiliar future. It's available in web, audio, PDF and Kindle formats.

Some other highlights so far

  • Where's Today's Beethoven? is a short series examining the causes and consequences of "innovation stagnation": across a variety of areas in both art and science, the best-regarded figures are disproportionately from long ago, and our era seems to "punch below its weight" when considering the rise in population, education, etc. (Why has no musician in the modern era achieved the stature of Beethoven, despite a much higher population of potential artists today?)
  • Why Describing Utopia Goes Badly is first in a three-part series on why it's so difficult to lay out an appealing hypothetical utopia - and why we nonetheless shouldn't give up on the idea of utopia.
  • Rowing, Steering, Anchoring, Equity, Mutiny presents five clashing pictures of how to help the world, and the questions about history they raise.
  • Has Life Gotten Better? is a series asking: "What would a chart of average quality of life for an inhabitant of Earth look like, if we started it all the way back at the dawn of humanity?" Most analyses of this topic focus on the last few hundred years, but humanity is at least hundreds of thousands of years old. Key pieces include Pre-agriculture gender relations seem bad and this concise summary of the case that life has gotten better since the Industrial Revolution.

  • Why talk about 10,000 years from now? summarizes one of the central attitudes of this blog: I try to imagine myself as a billions-of-years-old observer, thinking of hundred-year phenomena as "short-lived" and writing about the sorts of things that might still matter a very long time from now.
  • Minimal-Trust Investigations describes the single activity that has been most formative for the way I think. Most of what I believe comes from trusting others, in one way or another; but sometimes, I like to suspend my trust and dig as deeply into a question as I can, partly so I can form deeper views on whom to trust and when/why.
  • Does X cause Y? An in-depth evidence review. There's an interesting theory out there that X causes Y. If this were true, it would be pretty important. So I did a deep-dive into the academic literature on whether X causes Y. Here's what I found. (Embarrassingly, I can't actually remember what X and Y are. Fortunately or unfortunately, I think this piece is correct for most (X,Y) that you might try to research.)
  • Give Sports a Chance is the first in my "Cold Links" series: links that I like a lot, that are so old you can't believe I'm posting them now. It makes the case for why you might be interested in sports, even if you hate sports. If you're sold, here are my other sports posts.
  • Gell-Mann Earworms. "Gell-Mann Amnesia" refers to constantly forgetting how unreliable news sources are; I use "Gell-Mann Earworms" for the opposite condition, in which "I can’t trust this" is constantly ringing in your ears as you read anything. Since this seems correct, how does one live with this condition?
  • Summary of history (empowerment and well-being lens) presents a summary of human history in one table, through the specific lens of "empowerment and well-being": I consider historical people and events significant to the degree that they influenced the average person's (a) options and capabilities (empowerment) - including the advance of science and technology; (b) health, safety, fulfillment, etc. (well-being). Through this lens, the wars and power struggles that fill traditional history textbook barely matter; changes in science and technology, health, poverty, gender relations and slavery are all far more significant, leading to a different picture of history.
  • Phil Birnbaum's "bad regression" puzzles. If you've ever wanted to see someone painstakingly deconstruct a regression analysis and show all the subtle reasons it can generate wild, weird and completely wrong results, click here.