All of ejz's Comments + Replies

We Should Break Up Elite Colleges

One interesting thing: when you look at the “best” colleges for specific subjects say 80 years ago it seems like there was more heterogeneity and small colleges with some specialty. Today the best colleges are all “the best” at every subject.

Is Innovation in Human Nature?

Funny, growing up in the US we’re tsight a version of human history that centralizes technology. We’re taught that what makes Australopithecus special was walking and inventing stone tools, homo erectus is inventing fire, and so on. Invention is almost framed as what makes us human!

Draft for comment: Ideas getting harder to find does not imply stagnation

Good point, though I don't find looking at a selection of areas as too convincing. I could just as easily choose areas with consistent exponential growth that I would guess don't look like this, like solar panels or genome sequencing. Even if things were getting better on average you would expect some things to get less efficient over time too. (for example, think about that inflation components chart people share all the time)

One last thing: we would probably want to look at output and not inputs. Robert Gordon's sort-of nemesis, Chad Syverson, has done w... (read more)

1jasoncrawford9moWell, the point of a lot of this is to look at outputs as a function of inputs. That is what Bloom 2020 is looking at. You need some measure of inputs (they basically use R&D spending, deflated by the wage rate) and some measure of output (GDP, transistor density, crop yields, etc.) and then you figure out the quantitative relationship. If solar panels or genome sequencing don't look like this, that would be very interesting! My guess would be that they do.
Draft for comment: Ideas getting harder to find does not imply stagnation

One thing I'd like to see is a discussion of the potential for measurement error. For example, software is notably deflationary yet we don't see that in the statistics due to how we count. (We still don't really know how to value the contribution of software to GDP.) Bloom (2020) may just be measuring the wrong outputs for the current type of progress. For example, if publications or patents are a weaker signal for ideas than in the past, the methodology breaks down.

1jasoncrawford9moI agree in general about the measurement challenge. However, one strength of Bloom (2020) is that they look at a variety of areas using different metrics: Moore's law, agricultural productivity, etc. (They don't really look at patents, in part because it's hard to know what patents mean/represent.) In any case, it's not just GDP. The fact that there are similar patterns across different metrics is evidence that there's something real going on. Holden Karnofsky [https://www.cold-takes.com/wheres-todays-beethoven/] and Scott Alexander [https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/11/26/is-science-slowing-down-2/] go further, albeit with less solid quantitative support, and extend the pattern to art and general human accomplishment. E.g., here's Scott (this comes right after the block quote above):
Why doesn't progress seem to propagate?

I know it but it’s still pretty specific to the technologies and products the author is interested in. I’m more interested in a general question of: there are a number of technologies where the implementation barriers seem nontechnical, and it seems like it’s getting worse. Curious why.

1Maxwell Tabarrok9moHe uses specific case studies but the book definitely synthesizes general principles which can explain the nontechnical barriers in many technologies. Things like 'failures of nerve' and imagination and 'the Machiavelli effect' are illustrated with cases but are applicable to a wide range of technologies. Jason's summary is great but I really think you would enjoy the book. It's fun to read, not too long, and I think it is the most comprehensive answer to your question out there right now.
Why is there no equivalent of the VC industry, but for patentable inventions instead of startups?
Answer by ejzMay 11, 20225

The premise isn't exactly right here. There are venture backed companies that primarily develop and license IP, like Qualcomm, ARM, and RAMBUS. Plus, like, the entire biopharma industry. Sometimes companies make spinoffs that just hold IP for joint ventures with other companies. So this does happen; there just needs to be infrastructure to use the IP, like people to manage the licensing process and a corporation to actually hold the IP, since it always needs to be assigned to someone (IP cannot legally exist in the ether). Investors do also sometimes take ... (read more)