All of Jim Muller's Comments + Replies

Commensal Institutions

Great point. I wish we had more ideas about how to improve this. So many places we might try to fix this: philanthropists might redirect funding. We might try to provide career paths for these institutions' employees that spanned the space of current problems and not just the one problem they work on.

Do we get better or worse at adapting to change?

Related factors: it appears that harms due to technological change are much smaller than benefits due to technological change, and also much smaller than harms that we already suffer on an ongoing basis (like deaths due to disease).

Wizards and prophets of AI [draft for comment]

Great article! I think you expressed The Argument well and similarly to how I see it expressed by those who believe it.

I’m always surprised by how many tools are available to evaluate the argument…and that its fans rarely use any of them. It’s great to see you use some of these tools to critique it!  

By way of comment: at the same time, your article leaves the argument looking more plausible (to me) than it probably is, just because your critiques don’t include as many angles as it might from progress studies (especially the scientific method and the ... (read more)

Addressing any remaining LLM skepticism

Agreed. And we already have fake empathy on tap in novels, tv shows, and movies. It does have it's pleasures, but it didn't replace us, and neither will fake empathy from bots.

AMA: Mark Khurana, author of The Trajectory of Discovery, creator of Untold Health

What is the problem of missing novelty in drug development, and what can be done to fix it?

2M Khurana1yA few different issues! I’ll preface my answer by saying that there is certainly some evidence that ‘good ideas are becoming harder to find’, meaning that the marginal effort required to discover a new drug is increasing. This isn’t an excuse for the pharmaceutical industry, but it is worth noting. Structurally, large pharmaceutical companies take too few risks during drug development, meaning that the onus is on smaller companies and universities to develop novel products. Why so? Well in more recent times, large pharma companies have essentially offloaded a lot of their R&D in favor of simply acquiring smaller companies or the intellectual property rights to discoveries made at universities. This has been enabled by a variety of legislative changes, the most obvious one being the Bayh-Dole act in the United States (which allowed universities and institutions to acquire the rights for intellectual property generated from federal funding, which they could then sell on to companies). Of course, this seems like a logical strategy if it saves money, but from a broader drug discovery perspective, it slows the rate of progress. A big issue with this set-up is smaller companies and universities don’t necessarily have the capital to try risk-taking, either. Universities are incentivized by a ‘publish or perish’ culture, where they are pressured to publish often, and aren’t funded to the extent that they can try out a wide range of potential drug candidates. Smaller biotech firms are also relatively cash-constrained, meaning that they might be able to focus on one (or maybe two) products simply because their cashflow is too small. The result of this is that larger pharmaceutical companies have more liquidity and cashflow than smaller firms but aren’t willing to take risks (because they can simply acquire externally). On the flip side, smaller firms and academia are (relatively) more willing to try and develop novel products, but they are cash constrained. The overall con
The epistemic virtue of scope matching

Great points. In (good) science, scope matching is one of the most important concerns. I've always wondered why it doesn't have a (widely used) name.

Scope matching failures really do come up constantly in modern criticisms of new technologies, whether it's social media or AI. Probably happened centuries ago too

Why consumerism is good actually

Great post. I would add that when we talk about lifting people out of poverty we're literally talking about increasing their consumption. Consumption is also a synonym for the economic part of well-being.

I'd venture to speculate that the main reason we aren't better at reducing poverty, increasing middle-class well-being, making life better for families, fighting disease, and other important goals, is because we don't pay enough attention to increasing median consumption.

AMA: Ben Reinhardt, Speculative Technologies

What are your 3 favorite things that are coming soon in materials?

4Benjamin Reinhardt1yIn no particular order (and for flexible definitions of "coming" and "soon" -- things always take longer than we expect and aren't inevitable): * Plastics made from atmospheric carbon (if Casey Handmer et al are right about cratering solar panel prices) * I think? Varda is making fiber optic materials in space. * The science things we can learn from messing around with graphene (not sure it will make a useful product anytime soon) * (Maybe) Ceramic airplane engines
Can we “cure” cancer?

I love your essay's attempt to draw out the domains of infectious disease and compare them with regard to progress via broad measures and more specific measures.

As someone who reads a lot of the news about new papers in both domains, I see the two domains are very similar in this regard. The floor upon which cancer research rests is the commonalities between cancers. For decades there has been a War on Cancer, and lots of things are unified across cancer, including public health efforts to avoid carcinogens.

Most striking, look at the pipeline page for any ... (read more)

1jasoncrawford1yThanks for the detailed thoughts! Yes, we did start fighting infectious disease long before the germ theory. Most notably, the first immunization techniques, against smallpox [], long predated the theory. Also there were sanitation reforms [] that helped significantly. But these methods were limited: e.g., no vaccines for any disease other than smallpox were created, and water sanitation did not include chlorination. Indeed, sometimes sanitation efforts backfired, as when Edwin Chadwick tried to clean up the stench of London by building sewers to drain all cesspools into the Thames, and ended up polluting the supply of drinking water. Progress was much more rapid and consistent after the germ theory.
Eli Dourado AMA

So well put, the "succeed by its own lights" thing is such an important idea, and probably not articulated enough.

Eli Dourado AMA

This is great to understand.

Eli Dourado AMA

Is there good writing somewhere on how to lower the cost of clinical trials 10x? If we focus on the actual cost-lowering, rather than pure deregulation, it's a rare area where I've never even seen someone who seems to know what to do.

2elidourado1yYes, from what I hear, it seems very hard. I'd point you to some recent pieces: * [] * [] * []
Eli Dourado AMA

Such a great question, excited to see Eli's answer.

Eli Dourado AMA

I loved your idea that Congress should have incentive pay based on growth in John Fernald's Total Factor Productivity series. I would also argue that it's important for that incentive to be smooth and linear from 0% to 7%, and that the ideal amount is large -- at least $100,000 for each 1% (annually).

My big question: do you think there's a chance of getting this done?

2elidourado1yI still like that idea [] too, but it's pretty weird and unlikely to pass any time soon. A more likely reform that I also like is ranked choice voting [].
The spiritual benefits of material progress

There's a very, very broad tradition in our society of arguing that material progress is less important than spiritual or other things, of course. Indeed, I assume that most people studying progress already hold some version of this opinion very strongly. I do. My take would be there's little point in setting up any particular version of the thesis, because everyone can already make the argument themselves and sees Jason's article through the lens of their own standard.

And I think Jason's article is great in this respect!

The spiritual benefits of material progress

Great post! I especially enjoyed the section on The spiritual boon of material abundance

The mystery of the miracle year

Agreed that there are plenty of people with long, productive careers!

The mystery of the miracle year

Yeah, I came here to make the same comment. It seems like the main possible dimension Dwarkesh doesn't cover. With bands there are lots of examples of great first albums that contain all or much of the bands' best work, and lots of stories about those people writing those songs starting 5 or sometimes even 10 years before the band's first album was recorded.

I'll wager that the same thing applies with scientists, even though the tasks are different. When Newton or Einstein or Darwin was younger, each perhaps had versions of many of their famous ideas alread... (read more)

1Engin Deniz Tekalp1yThe careers of Nietzsche and Mozart are counter examples to what you guys are saying. Both of them were prodigies and had very productive careers. They produced their most excellent works at a very rapid frequency just before they tragically went crazy/died.
Think wider about the root causes of progress

Thanks for the post. Definitely a nice compact mind-expander. The dimensions you mention are familiar as major themes writers repeatedly underscore. I always remember Carlota Perez's framing of history as a series of revolutions/waves each of which is about the rise of 2 or 3 technologies in, e.g. railroads and steel.

The Progress Link Dump: Christmas and New Year's Edition 🎉

Thanks. Great links, including great to find Mathias Sudin.

Unblocking Abundance

Great post. I really like your section on what distinguishes unblocking from a blanket interest in deregulation! I've been searching for these paragraphs for years :-)

Another difference between the two approaches, I think, is that progress toward abundance gets made when a cost-benefit analysis finds an opportunity. There are a tiny number of deregulatory changes that have very strong cost-benefit analyses that we all talk about repeatedly (building more housing, more immigration, allowing geothermal to have the same carve-outs as oil and gas drilling, etc). In contrast, the blanket deregulator that you might find at the CATO institute or some such place often argues that deregulation is by default good.