Best of Balaji

Evangelize technology

A lack of imagination is holding back innovation.

If you haven’t studied something in depth, your mental model of it often implicitly reduces to a few scenes from a Hollywood movie.

— (@balajis) September 9, 2020

Hollywood visuals, or a lack thereof, are limiting technological progress in two ways:

1. People can easily imagine companies to be bad, but not regulation.

2. People, including regulators, often have a dystopian view of technological progress.

Let's unpack these two.

1. Regulation is limiting technological progress

The reason we find it hard to build in the physical world is that regulations make it hard to build in the physical world.
Think about how hard it is to build a duplex in SF. Or how cities reacted to a mere app that calls a cab.
Now extend that to medicine. And everything else. — (@balajis) April 19, 2020

The inflation is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.
The areas tech touches (televisions, software, phones) have experienced hyperdeflation.
The areas subsidized or regulated by the state (healthcare, education) have experienced real price increases. — (@balajis) October 9, 2019

Regulation often holds technological progress back unnecessarily, but many people do not realize this.

Listen to Balaji's conversation with Jake about this (or read the transcript below), at 55:40 (47:22 remaining) Balaji states that:

"Many people, for example, have a visual blank when it comes to how could a regulator be bad. But they understand how a corporation could be bad. What is the failure mode of a corporation? It's obvious. It's been seen a thousand times. It is because they're so greedy. They're so hungry for more money. Well here's the thing, the failure mode of a regulator, like any government agency, is that they're power hungry. Not money hungry, but power hungry. And what that means is that they, you know, want to expand their turf, they want to expand their legacy, they're like academics in the sense that they don't really want a bigger car, or a fancier house or something like that. What they want is to write their name in history. And are willing to do anything to accomplish that. And showing that as a failure mode, is not something that we typically see on the screen."

He then goes on to talk about (56:50) how this visual blank can explain why people were surprised that the FDA held back emergency COVID-testing, although this could have saved tens of thousands of lives.

FDA hard at work again...stopping decentralized at-home testing. Disgraceful. Increases risk of nosocomial infection from hospitals.
Governors should act to expand right-to-try now, to route around FDA by allowing state regulators to approve. Create sanctuary states for tests. — (@balajis) March 23, 2020

The visual blank for potential failure modes of regulation, makes people oblivious to bad regulation. In the podcast, Balaji states a few other problems with current regulation:

Regulators are often not elected. They cannot easily be fired, which mitigates the consequences of severe offenses. And because of a process called "harmonization", regulations written in the US are used by much of the rest of the world.

In this manner, a regulator that was not elected and cannot be fired, has a chokehold on regulation for biomedicine, aviation, finance, etc., for every country in the world that adopt US regulations.

Regulators are affected by what they read in the press and what they see in Hollywood, just like everyone else. And the problem is that technology is not usually portrayed in a positive light. Which brings us to point 2.

2. The emotional case for technology

Balaji argues that we should flip the common dystopian narrative around technology in movies:

The emotional case for technology.
Why accept 30k deaths/year rather than speed up self-driving cars?
Why accept a biomedical regime that prevents us from creating life-saving diagnostics?
And why accept non-accidental death at all, rather than driving life extension? — (@balajis) June 25, 2020

An alternative narrative is that today is bad, and that there are people trying to fix it with new technologies, but regulators, and technologically conservative people who support those regulators, are holding them back.

If we accept Balaji's premise that Hollywood movies fill in visual blanks, and that many movies depict a dystopian view of technology, then a logical consequence would be that many people will have an aversion to technological progress.

In this light, he introduces an axis with technological progressives on one side, and technological conservatives or political progressives on the other side (14:12, or 1:28:48 remaining in the podcast).

When faced with a societal problem, political progressives look at politics first for solutions. In the form of new laws or subsidies. In contrast, technological progressives look at technology first for solutions. Both groups tend to agree on the problems. For instance, road fatalities, COVID-19, and climate change are all problems. But they disagree on the mechanism of change. Instead of asking how do we redistribute this scarce resource, ask how do we reduce scarcity. Bonus: hear Vitalik's thoughts on this topic here (from 34:30)

Balaji argues that we should bet more on technology to solve certain problems. First, because new technologies are a voluntary vehicle for change, in contrast to new laws. Second, because technology has consistently improved over the last hundred plus years. This type of progress, Balaji argues, is more certain than political progress. Technological improvements are the thing to bet on.

Technological progressive > technological conservative
Politics is a last resort. Any problem that can be solved with technology should be solved with technology. And many problems can be solved with technology. — (@balajis) February 6, 2021

The technological community needs to actively make the case for using technology to solve problems.

Movies do need conflict. But it's obvious what to do. Just show the real-life consequences of humorless enforcement of the status quo, as Dallas Buyers Club did. — (@balajis) November 16, 2020

Do you want to get to Mars or just write articles about it? Well, it turns out we are going to have to write articles about it — lots of them — to get to Mars. — (@balajis) July 8, 2020

In his essay on The Purpose of Technology (read it for many more of his thoughts on this topic, and find the Balajiwiki link here), Balaji argues that:

"Specifically, people who know math and science, who have experience in managing and investing, who are technological progressives rather than technological conservatives – these people need to learn to write, report, publish, and direct. We need to consciously build a parallel tech-driven decentralized media ecosystem, and we need it to become the first point of call for anyone seeking to learn about technology."

We need: "A lifetime's worth of content that makes the case for immutable money, infinite frontier, artificial intelligence, and eternal life."

Balaji thinks movies would be the most impactful, as movies are the high-bandwith path into the brain. He talks about crypto experts producing pro-crypto movies in this video (~3 min segment):

Luckily, AI is democratizing filmmaking.

If the last decade turned everyone into a publisher, this decade is going to turn everyone into a producer. — (@balajis) January 21, 2020

AI video editing is getting very good. Hollywood at home. — (@balajis) September 6, 2020

Open source Hollywood might outcompete Hollywood over time.

- all content in public domain
- all shot on phones or using virtual influencers
- any remix allowed and encouraged
- all code for special fx included

Falling production costs are making this more feasible. — (@balajis) June 25, 2020

But AI video is democratizing movie making by allowing anyone to create Hollywood-quality videos, even if they are a kid in Alaska or India or Nigeria without millions of dollars.
That means more art, from more diverse perspectives. — (@balajis) April 7, 2020

We need to change the visuals. Regulation is holding back technological progress. And technological progress is a better bet to solve many problems than political progress.

More like this. — (@balajis) September 12, 2020

Every company needs to become a media company and tell their story. We need citizen journalism: experts telling the stories of their own field. We need regulators competing for technological progressive citizens.

Create content that makes the case for technological progress. To inspire new founders, but also to make the world, including the regulators themselves, more optimistic about technological progress.

Evangelize technology.

Corona was an overnight failure, years in the making. And it was made by the regulatory state & its cheerleaders, who disabled America’s ability to quickly innovate in the physical world.

To build, and to rebuild, we must sweep aside obsolete regulations. — (@balajis) May 16, 2020

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