Quote of the week: 

“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” – Niels Bohr

How to think like Einstein

“There’s a kind of excited curiosity that’s both the engine and the rudder of great work,” writes the investor Paul Graham in a recent essay, How To Do Great Work. “It will not only drive you, but if you let it have its way, will also show you what to work on.” 

Graham’s latest essay is many things: an examination of curiosity, a deep-dive into original thinking, a study of exceptional outliers, and more. But at its core, it’s simply a useful framework for anyone—at any age—who wants do great work. Graham’s advice is ultimately multidisciplinary; it’s a good read whether you’re working in medicine, technology, law, physics, art, or investing. “To find new ideas you have to seize on signs of breakage instead of looking away,” Graham writes. “That’s what Einstein did. He was able to see the wild implications of Maxwell’s equations not so much because he was looking for new ideas as because he was stricter.” He continues:

“The other thing you need is a willingness to break rules. Paradoxical as it sounds, if you want to fix your model of the world, it helps to be the sort of person who’s comfortable breaking rules. From the point of view of the old model, which everyone including you initially shares, the new model usually breaks at least implicit rules. Few understand the degree of rule-breaking required, because new ideas seem much more conservative once they succeed. They seem perfectly reasonable once you’re using the new model of the world they brought with them. But they didn’t at the time; it took the greater part of a century for the heliocentric model to be generally accepted, even among astronomers, because it felt so wrong.”


AI and the Jevons paradox

A common debate across the AI discourse is the question of whether automation and AI will eliminate millions of jobs. Could the opposite be true? In a recent essay, Benedict Evans makes a compelling case that AI and labor may fall into the Jevons paradox. For the uninitiated, the Jevons paradox is the idea that technological breakthroughs actually increase the use of scarce resources. A common example is observed in fuel-efficient cars: Though hybrid vehicles increased the efficiency of gasoline, the overall use of gasoline actually increased over time because it became more efficient (and cheaper) to drive. AI and human labor could see similar dynamics. “New technology generally makes it cheaper and easier to do something, but that might mean you do the same with fewer people, or you might do much more with the same people,” Benedict writes. He continues:

“It also tends to mean that you change what you do. To begin with, we make the new tool fit the old way of working, but over time, we change how we work to fit the tool. When CC Baxter’s company bought a mainframe, they began by automating the way they already did things, but over time, new ways to run the business became possible. So, all of this is to say that by default, we should expect LLMs to destroy, displace, create, accelerate and multiply jobs just as SAP, Excel, Mainframes or typewriters did. It’s just more automation. The machine lets a person do 10x the work, but you need the person.”

A few more links I enjoyed:

“I have a suspicion that the amount of work (essentially time and effort spent thinking about an idea), determines if you’ll get an answer to your question. Recall Richard Feynman’s advice for how to be a genius: keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind and wait for inspiration. As is common to most “a-ha!” moments, I personally receive these insights in non-ordinary states of consciousness, such as when I’m just waking up. Presumably the conscious self is more permeable to the information field during these times. Shaman and healers throughout human history have deliberately induced these states to act as conduits for new information.”
“At TweakTown, I’ve talked a lot about Game Pass and how it has transformed the video games industry. The introduction of Game Pass as the first multi-game content library subscription service (as the FTC refers to it) was a pivotal disruption point in gaming. The history of the world’s largest entertainment industry is filled with disruption points. First there were coin-op arcade machines (aka the original microtransactions), then the advent of the home console which brought the arcade to your living room. Following the gaming crash in the 80s, we saw Nintendo rise up and reinvigorate the console market using artificial scarcity to drive up demand, complimented by stringent approval processes and games specifically designed to sell magazine subscriptions and generate money from tip hotlines (microtransactions have been here for a while, folks).” (H/T Cam Tierney)

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