Optimizing the news feed

Humans publish trillions of words each year, yet any given human is going to read only a few of them. How should they choose which ones? This has long been a tricky and interesting question. But it’s much more fun now that society is basically forced to write an algorithm to answer it. I like this topic because it is a relatable allegory for value alignment. Conveniently, it’s also an issue du jour on … More Optimizing the news feed

If we can’t lie to others, we will lie to ourselves

Many apparent cognitive biases can be explained by a strong desire to look good and a limited ability to lie; in general, our conscious beliefs don’t seem to be exclusively or even mostly optimized to track reality. If we take this view seriously, I think it has significant implications for how we ought to reason and behave. (See … More If we can’t lie to others, we will lie to ourselves

Less costly signaling

As far as I can tell: The largest component of a Rolex’s price is its elaborate time-keeping mechanism, which may cost around $1000. This mechanism has no effect on the aesthetics of the watch (since you can’t see it). This mechanism is not a useful way to tell time. A quartz watch will keep time more accurately with less trouble. … More Less costly signaling

On Trump

(Warnings: this is a serious post about a serious topic on which I am underinformed. It was written largely in response to a sea of scared and angry rhetoric—not the best conditions for rational discourse. It is in the same spirit as my previous posts, rather than an attempt to be maximally useful. Also I just saw … More On Trump


Political spending is a classical example of a zero-sum conflict. If Dustin gives $1M to Clinton and Peter gives $1M to Trump, they might both be happier if all the money went to charity. This suggests the following scheme: rather than having people contribute directly to Hillary or Trump, they give the money to me and choose a charity. If I receive $1 for Hillary … More Repledge++

Initiative 732

(Reposted from Facebook,  I would prefer put it here than have it lost to the sands of time.) The state of Washington will soon vote on on a large revenue-neutral carbon tax, and will probably reject it. As relayed by Vox, I found the story one of the most compelling political tragedies of the season, … More Initiative 732

Could raising tolls radically improve commuting?

Between the hours of 6am and 10am, the Bay Bridge is miserable. Which is a particular shame, because that’s when everyone wants to use it. Right now congestion on the bridge adds 22 minutes to my trip to SF. (Using BART would add a comparable amount.) Google’s “typical” traffic estimate is between an 8 and 53 minute rush hour delay. This is a … More Could raising tolls radically improve commuting?