142 Comments
Jan 10Liked by Noah Smith

Big fan of your work Noah. Your comments on AI art made me think about some of the angst that was floating around the webs last year - the meme of robots becoming the poets, authors, and artists, while humans were relegated back to working in the fields - I wonder if art as a business will evolve in the same way that the music industry did, i.e. with less and less revenue over time from media sales and digital streaming, growth in importance of live touring, and the emergent dominance of mega-artists and mega-tours. You could see some parallels - if digital art was largely commoditized with close to zero residual commercial value, perhaps we'll see more growth of galleries and exhibition spaces for physical and performance artworks over time?

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One other gamechanger that could come out of robotics: robot nannies and childcare workers. Given the cost of childcare, I'm genuinely convinced that their development would solve our birth rate crisis within a few years.

Also, thank you for pointing out the synergy between advancements in biology and in computing. CRIPSR gets the press (reasonably so) but it only solved the problem of how to make cheap and rapid targeted gene edits. The true revolution in biology will come about due to the advancements in -omics and bioinformatics we've been seeing the past decade, allowing us to accurately measure and model cell-wide changes in phenotype at the molecular level.

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Jan 10·edited Jan 10Liked by Noah Smith

As someone who's been involved (as a hobbyist) in AI since the era of GPT-2... I do not trust those tech demos at all. Smoke and mirrors, I'd (literally) bet on it. The current techniques struggle with spatial sense so much that I simply cannot see a robot working in an arbitrary consumer kitchen in the next decade. If everything is consistently in its proper place, maybe, but in a house with children and/or cats? Forget about it.

For the same reason, I would bet against serious AI animation. It's no coincidence that all those AI videos you see are either psychedelic or consist of second-long clips. Show me a smooth animation lasting thirty seconds and I'll reconsider, but I don't see it happening this year. Barring a paradigm shift, not even this decade.

Biotech, on the other hand... talking with my sister, a pediatric nurse, about how many children will survive and even thrive because of technology and techniques that simply didn't exist when she started her job ten years ago was an eye-opener.

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Jan 10Liked by Noah Smith

The AI art proves it: the man loves his bunnies.

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I was thinking about posting some tempering of Noah's optimism, but I think it would be more interesting to here from him or other techno optimists what would be a disappointing result for them that would make them rethink their techno optimism. What would technology have to look like in 2030 for you to re-assess your optimism?

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1. Thank you.

2. I like to think in terms of capabilities models... and think of capabilities in an investment context as where the technical potential of assets or innovations is mobilized by a management team and business model. So potential is a rock at the top of a hill but capability is that a man with a lever by a rock at the top of a hill.

3. Capabilities compete. Or one plugs capabilities of corporations into an iterative evolutionary framework where nothing makes sense without the iterative path dependence of evolution.

4. Second and third order effects of new capabilities always dominate first order effects, or the impacts of new capabilities increase over time/iteration and new un-pre-statable combinations of those capabilities cascade through ecosystems or economies (this is stuart kaufmann’s adjacent possible).

5. So your discussion of techno-optimistic ideas sets off its own cascade in my mind. And that’s fun for me. Thank you.

On techno-optimism, I think that techno-optimism is actually pragmatic realism. In an evolutionary framework, the future belongs to those who survive and one can’t survive without adapting and adding capabilities... and humans win by collaborating at scale and scale collaboration of humans doesn’t work if the humans don’t individually choose it - choice maximized agency which makes a group a more vigorous competitor... so the group that will inevitably win to survive is probably a techno-optimist group whose beliefs maximize human agency and the conversion of technical potential into economic capabilities...

In summary - appreciate what you are doing here and like how you think.

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Jan 10Liked by Noah Smith

In the beginning you mention the drop-off in productivity starting in 2005 and its reaccelearion in 2021-2 time frame. I think ZIRP had a lot to do with that. Scarcity as the interesting ability to focus minds. In this context capital was not scarce - it was cheap - and resulted in a lot of waste. That has now changed. I highly encourage you to check out the book by "Scarcity" by Mullainathan.

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Jan 10Liked by Noah Smith

LFG!!!

Though I'm sure my cats will not get along with the housework robots. Maybe we need robot cats instead?

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I agree about robots. I think that they will be the first killer application for LLMs, unless something unforeseen happens first.

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Jan 10Liked by Noah Smith

Toyota pomoses solid state batteries every 3-4 years. Since 2010. Don't hold your breath. SSB will come but not from Toyota and unlikely to be commercialized this decade. Batteries are incredibly hard to make, not to mention improve (all 5 issues that count and not just one of the 5).

BNEFs forecasts on EVs have been notoriously wrong on the LOW side. In China EV sales is projected to reach 80% in December 2025. Pure BEV sales will be around 65%. Looking back by 2027 I think people will find it laughable that in 2023 estimates for EV adoption would be so low. BEV adoption has grown 100 fold from 2013-2022. A 10x every 5 years. By the end of the next 5 year period in 2027 BEV adoption globally will likely be around 60% to 70%.

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After reading "A City on Mars" I am much more skeptical that commercially viable space exploration is going to be occurring in the next 50 years, but the rest is really promising!

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Jan 10Liked by Noah Smith

Great list! Didn’t see a lot of neural related technologies though. Do you not see a lot of brain augmented technologies coming out this decade? Like neuralink type technologies or more advanced telepathy?

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Jan 10Liked by Noah Smith

Thanks for the perspective. I’m a fan of your columns.

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Jan 10Liked by Noah Smith

Did you see the new Rabbit personal AI assistant device. $200 and interfaces to phone and PC based apps with a natural voice interface.

https://x.com/nickfloats/status/1744843239125819468?s=61&t=VH-7ngz75UVBiu_X4I1aWw

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Jan 10Liked by Noah Smith

The one think I remember from the Jetsons is George complaining about his gruelling (I think), 3 hour days. And then there were commentators who spoke of how people would use all their extra free time. But in the working world hours spent at work have seemed to go in the other direction.

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100% in agreement that AI tech that doesn't depend so much on language will evolve and improve faster than LLMs, which are dying on the vine, except for search and walled gardens. Thank you as always for your optimism! And rabbits!

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