Promoted by PPP

Money illusions have been something of an obsession here recently (for instance). As an example of just how much difference they can make, the economic order of the world, which is comfortably dominated by the United States at international exchange rates, is on the brink of its greatest transition for half a millennium if accounting is conducted according to PPP.

From Bloomberg:

China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy, while India has vaulted into third place, ahead of Japan, using calculations that take exchange rates into account.

China’s economy was 87 percent of the size of that of the U.S. in 2011, assessed according to so-called purchasing power parity, the International Comparison Program said in a statement in Washington yesterday. The program, which involves organizations including the World Bank and United Nations, had put the figure at 43 percent in 2005.

BTC in Orbit

Could the techonomic intensity of this development be any greater? (Perhaps if the satellites were being fabricated by shanzhai companies with 3D printers.)

Cryptocurrency and New Space had to come together at some point. The immediate question, from a theoretical perspective, is whether the two emerging fields of decentralized Internet commerce and off-planet industrialism will prove to be cross-catalytic. When two lines of previously-distinct social escape intersect in this way, it is especially difficult to predict what will come forth.

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Graphed Philosophy

How does philosophy connect up? Simon Raper at Drunks & Lampposts turns this question into a practical problem of visualization. When stripped down to a graph, it looks like this:

philprettyv4  (Click image to enlarge.)

By displaying the ‘history of philosophy’ as a set of simultaneous connections it makes a point about time-reference that it would take very many words to match.

It would be highly intriguing to see this book receive the same treatment.

Quotable (#12)

A resource overhang is a development jolt waiting to happen. Eliezer Yudkowsky on hard AI takeoff (from December 2008):

… hominid brain size increased by a factor of five over the course of around five million years. You might want to think very seriously about the contrast between that idiom, and a successful AI being able to expand onto five thousand times as much hardware over the course of five minutes — when you are pondering possible hard takeoffs, and whether the AI trajectory ought to look similar to human experience.

A subtler sort of hardware overhang, I suspect, is represented by modern CPUs have a 2GHz serial speed, in contrast to neurons that spike 100 times per second on a good day. The “hundred-step rule” in computational neuroscience is a rule of thumb that any postulated neural algorithm which runs in realtime has to perform its job in less than 100 serial steps one after the other. We do not understand how to efficiently use the computer hardware we have now, to do intelligent thinking. But the much-vaunted “massive parallelism” of the human brain, is, I suspect, mostly cache lookups to make up for the sheer awkwardness of the brain’s serial slowness — if your computer ran at 200Hz, you’d have to resort to all sorts of absurdly massive parallelism to get anything done in realtime. I suspect that, if correctly designed, a midsize computer cluster would be able to get high-grade thinking done at a serial speed much faster than human, even if the total parallel computing power was less.

So that’s another kind of overhang: because our computing hardware has run so far ahead of AI theory, we have incredibly fast computers we don’t know how to use for thinking; getting AI right could produce a huge, discontinuous jolt, as the speed of high-grade thought on this planet suddenly dropped into computer time.

A still subtler kind of overhang would be represented by human failure to use our gathered experimental data efficiently.


The Delirium of Quantities

Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century has leveraged current anxieties about rising inequality to re-awaken a discussion of capitalism, in a grand style rarely seen since the dawn of the 20th century. This is a book about the nature of capital, in its essentials, and thus about the fundamental structure of modern history. Irrespective of its ultimate persuasiveness, such lofty ambition is worthy of appreciation. Innumerable conversations of great interest have already been spun from it.

As a result of the excitement generated by Piketty’s book, its central formula r > g has become the most widely-recognized economic statement of our age. This post preserves strict neutrality in regards to the realism of r > g. It seeks to provide only a minimal elucidation, on the way to exploiting the formula, as a gateway into more general perplexities. (UF has nevertheless to endorse, if parenthetically here, Piketty’s remarkable conclusion: “… as I discovered, capital is an end in itself and no more.”)

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Quotable (#11)

Primavera De Filippi on Ethereum:

Ethereum is a contract validating and enforcing system based on a distributed public ledger (or blockchain) such as the one implemented by the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. Yet, Ethereum also features an internal Turing-complete scripting language that can be used to encode advanced transaction types directly into the blockchain. This allows for the deployment of self-enforcing smart contracts (such as joint savings accounts, financial exchange markets, or even trust funds) as well as distributed autonomous organizations (DAOs) that subsist independently of any moral or legal entity. These algorithmical entities are both autonomous and self-sufficient: they charge users from the services they provide so as to pay others for the resources they need (e.g. bandwidth, cpu). Thus, once they have been created and deployed onto the blockchain, they no longer need (nor heed) their creators.

Meme War

It’s so on:

The realist counter-case is that the accelerationist cultural process is (or will ultimately demonstrably have been) controlled by its object. The only way to find out is for reality to happen — and we can be extremely confident that it will.

Quick links (#8)

An ominous signal from Li Ka-Shing.

Singapore’s demographic dilemma.

Guidance from the Dao, with signposts recent and less recent.

Oliver Stone calls for edgier Chinese cinema.

Architectural highlights of Expo history.


Interviews with the prophet of anti-accelerationism.

A True Detective reading list.

Biblical creationism and megastructure engineering.

A spectre is haunting America — the spectre of hashtag activism:

The need for Capitalism Studies.

Quotable (#10)

Search data begins to support social-scientific research, in this case confirming the negative correlation between time-preference and prosperity, at the national level:

The enormous volume and availability of data on individuals’ online behaviors and the increasing integration of online and real-world activity provides an alternative to the use of standard scales on relatively small samples of individuals for studying individuals’ time-perspective. The present study is (to the best of our knowledge) the first to use the psychology of individuals to inspire the creation of nation-level measures of time-perspective. In particular, we have constructed four measures of time-perspective from search engine query data and examined their relationship with a widely-used measure of economic activity: per-capita GDP. As predicted, nations with high per-capita GDP are more focused on the future, less focused on the past, and have longer past time-horizons. Of course, the direction of causality cannot be established from this correlational analysis, but the strong association of our time-perspective measures with per-capita GDP does demonstrate that these measures are capturing something systematic about the economic activity of a nation.

Our finding that a greater future focus is associated with higher per-capita GDP is consistent with studies of individuals. Just as the individuals focused on the future are better able to pursue career goals*, the nations focused on the future may be better able to strive for economic success and thus have higher per-capita GDP.

* Zimbardo PG, Boyd J (1999) Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual-differences metric. J Pers Soc Psychol 77: 1271–1288 doi:10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1271.

Hegemonic Headaches

… there are no doubt a number. One that stands out for its conceptual clarity, however, is the Triffin Dilemma. Formulated by Robert Triffin and publicized in testimony to the US Congress in 1960, it builds upon the simple arithmetical necessity that any country whose currency is privileged with world reserve status is compelled to run chronic trade deficits, in order to supply global monetary liquidity. World economic hegemony is therefore inseparable from a loss of control over domestic monetary policy — since measures that might be required to support the value of the currency would commonly be inconsistent with the responsibility to export money (through a negative current account balance).

Chimerica‘ is the Triffin Dilemma exemplified in convenient binary form. On the one hand, economic leadership and the ‘exorbitant privilege’ of seigniorage (through which mere financial signs are swapped for substantial products and services), on the other economic policy dysfunction and de-industrialization, as American business activity is outsourced to China is exchange for symbolic monetary dominance. In this process, and paradox of power, the current instantiation of world order is captured in its essentials. The way modernity presently and concretely works cannot be made intelligible without reference to Triffin.

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