Warren Hatch on Seeing the Future in the Era of COVID-19 – #50

Steve and Corey talk to Warren Hatch, President and CEO of Good Judgment Inc. Warren explains what makes someone a good forecaster and how the ability to integrate and assess information allows cognitively diverse teams to outperform prediction markets. The hosts express skepticism about whether the incentives at work in large organizations would encourage the adoption of approaches that might lead to better forecasts. Warren describes the increasing depth of human-computer collaboration in forecasting. Steve poses the long-standing problem of assessing alpha in finance and Warren suggests that the emerging alpha-brier metric, linking process and outcome, might shed light on the issue. The episode ends with Warren describing Good Judgment’s open invitation to self-identified experts to join a new COVID forecasting platform.

Leif Wenar on the Resource Curse and Impact Philosophy – #49

Corey and Steve interview Leif Wenar, Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University and author of Blood Oil. They begin with memories of Leif and Corey’s mutual friend David Foster Wallace and end with a discussion of John Rawls and Robert Nozick (Wenar’s thesis advisor at Harvard, and a friend of Steve’s). Corey asks whether Leif shares his view that analytic philosophy had become too divorced from wider intellectual life. Leif explains his effort to re-engage philosophy in the big issues of our day as Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, Mill and Marx were in theirs. He details how a trip to Nigeria gave him insight into the real problems facing real people in oil-rich countries. Leif explains how the legal concept of “efficiency” led to the resource curse and argues that we should refuse to buy oil from countries that are not minimally accountable to their people. Steve notes that some may find this approach too idealistic and not in the US interest. Leif suggests that what philosophers can contribute is the ability to see the big synthetic picture in a complex world.

Michael Kauffman on Cancer, Drug Development and Market Capitalism – #48

Steve and Corey speak with Dr. Michael Kauffman, co-founder and CEO of Karyopharm Therapeutics, about cancer and biotech innovation. Michael explains how he and Dr. Sharon Schacham tested her idea regarding nuclear-transport using simulation software on a home laptop, and went on to beat 1000:1 odds to create a billion dollar company. They discuss the relationship between high proprietary drug costs and economic incentives for drug discovery. They also discuss the unique US biotech ecosystem, and why innovation is easier in small (vs. large) companies. Michael explains how Karyopharm is targeting its drug at COVID-induced inflammation to treat people with severe forms of the disease.

Scott Adams on Trump, and his book Loserthink – #47

Corey and Steve talk to Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and author of Loserthink. Steve reviews some of Scott’s predictions, including of Trump’s 2016 victory. Scott (who once semi-humorously described himself as “left of Bernie”) describes what he describes as Trump’s unique “skill stack”. Scott highlights Trump’s grasp of the role of psychology in economics, and maintains that honesty requires admitting that we do not know whether many of Trump’s policies are good or bad. Scott explains why he thinks it is mistaken to assume leaders are irrational.

James Oakes on What’s Wrong with The 1619 Project – #46

Steve and Corey talk to James Oakes, Distinguished Professor of History and Graduate School Humanities Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, about “The 1619 Project” developed by The New York Times Magazine. The project argues that slavery was the defining event of US history. Jim argues that slavery was actually the least exceptional feature of the US and that what makes the US exceptional is that it is where abolition first begins. Steve wonders about the views of Thomas Jefferson who wrote that “all men are created equal” but still held slaves. Jim maintains many founders were hypocrites, but Jefferson believed what he wrote.

Robert Atkinson on US-China Competition and Industrial Policy – #45

Steve and Corey talk with Robert Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation about his philosophy of National Developmentalism. They discuss the history of industrial policy and mercantilism in the US and China. Why did the US lose 1/3 of its manufacturing jobs in the 2000s? How much was due to automation and how much to Chinese competition? Atkinson discusses US R&D and recommends policies that will help the US compete with China.

Raman Sundrum: Physics and the Universe – #44

Steve and Corey talk with theoretical physicist Raman Sundrum. They discuss the last 30 years in fundamental physics, and look toward the next. Raman argues that Physics is a marketplace of ideas. While many theories did not stand the test of time, they represented avenues that needed to be explored. Corey expresses skepticism about the possibility of answering questions such as why the laws of physics have the form they do. Raman and Steve argue that attempts to answer such questions have led to great advances. Topics: models and experiments, Naturalness, the anthropic principle, dark matter and energy, and imagination.

Vineer Bhansali: Physics, Tail Risk Hedging, and 900% Coronavirus Returns – #43

Steve and Corey talk with theoretical physicist turned hedge fund investor Vineer Bhansali. Bhansali describes his transition from physics to finance, his firm LongTail Alpha, and his recent outsize returns from the coronavirus financial crisis. Also discussed: derivatives pricing, random walks, helicopter money, and Modern Monetary Theory.

Jaan Tallinn: Coronavirus, Existential Risk, and AI – #42

Steve talks with Skype founder and global tech investor Jaan Tallinn. Will the coronavirus pandemic lead to better planning for future global risks? Jaan gives his list of top existential risks and describes his efforts to call attention to AI risk. They discuss AGI, the Simulation Question, the Fermi Paradox and how these are all connected. Do we live in a simulation of a quantum multiverse?

Dan Gable: Legendary NCAA and Olympic Wrestler & Coach – #41

Steve and Corey talk to legendary NCAA and Olympic wrestler and coach Dan Gable. Gable describes the final match of his collegiate career, an NCAA championship upset which spoiled his undefeated high school and college record. The Coach explains how the loss led him to take a more scientific approach to training and was critical for his later success. They discuss the tragic murder of Gable’s sister, and the steps 15-year old Gable took try to save his parents’ marriage. Gable describes his eye for talent and philosophy of developing athletes. Steve gets Gable’s reaction to ultimate fighting and jiujitsu.