Thoughts in Between

by Matt Clifford

Matt's Thoughts In Between - Issue #3

The disruption of political competition

I enjoyed this piece on how the axes of political competition have changed in the UK: conservative / libertarian on cultural issues now matters as much as left / right on economics ones (one reason the left is no longer so class-driven). The author points out that the "conservative left" and "libertarian right" are under-represented in British politics - but also that UK (like US) politics is very inhospitable to new parties. 

This is one reason I think MoreUnited is one of the most interesting organisations operating in the UK today: it's the most credible effort I've seen to realign politics along the cultural axis without trying to create a new party. With Brexit on the horizon and ripping both parties apart, the conditions for disruption are ripe...

Related: Noah Smith thinks identity politics will win in the US

Are there any good blockchain use cases?

Adam Ludwin's post arguing that the essential blockchain use case is censorship resistance was one of the standout tech essays of 2017. Chris Dixon has a new piece that argues that the case goes beyond this: by providing a more stable platform for developers, decentralised networks can win. It's just that decentralised networks can reach product-market fit for developers long before developers build things that reach product-market for end users, so we need to be patient. If he's right, you can safely bet on crypto without wanting to overthrow the state...

Of course, just because there might be some good use cases doesn't mean we've seen many yet. Tom Pocock, a founder in the current EF cohort, has an excellent post arguing that the whole idea of a utility token is misguided. (Though they may represent a fascinating economic opportunity for an AI)

Related: the bull case is that South Korea is already at the crypto tipping point

More AI nationalism, more AI pessimism

Last week's section on AI nationalism prompted a lot of replies from you. As if on cue, the New York Times followed up with an essay on the topic. And the French Prime Minister with a tweetstorm. There was also an excellent report by a number of prominent figures and others on the dangers of malicious use of AI. 

All in all, it's hard to find someone presenting a wholeheartedly positive vision of an AI future (this podcast with the excellent Miles Brundage presents the conditional case for AI optimism - but the word conditional is doing a lot of work!). This is a shame. Can anyone recommend a strong optimistic vision?

Quick links

  1. Monkeys: You can train monkeys to like brand logos by placing them next to pictures of high status monkeys (really)
  2. Nuclear bombs: If you've ever wanted to know what a nuclear bomb dropped near you would do, now you can simulate it
  3. Technological unemployment: Superb long essay on technological unemployment by SlateStarCodex (spoiler: it's not happening yet, but underemployment may be)
  4. The Sage of Omaha: Warren Buffet's annual letter is out (Reading the letters from 1977 to today back to back is the best short history of modern American capitalism)
  5. The end of social media? Facebook (minus Whatsapp and Instagram) is declining faster than you think

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Until next week,