Cowen and Piper on EA, AI, War, Peace, Pandemics, and Economics
I had never heard of Kelsey Piper before but she does a fantastic job of interviewing Tyler Cowen on a wide range of issues, starting with Effective Altruism and Artificial Intelligence. It gradually turns into a conversation in which Piper holds her own. She has a lot of energy and enthusiasm and of course Tyler does too. I recommend listening at 1.25 speed. By the way, the subtitles are horrible but also not necessary. Both of them speak clearly.
A few highlights.
13:00: What we can do better in future pandemics. This was the part where I was most critical. The things we can do better are virtually all government things. I agree with Tyler, at least in most cases that if government did things better, things would be, well, better. But he doesn’t specify any set of incentives that would get us there. He still won’t criticize lockdowns, for example.
15:23: Here I was pleased to see that Tyler went as far as he’ll probably ever go to admitting that the Great Barrington Declaration and its authors should be part of the conversation. I think Tyler has real trouble saying he’s sorry or even that he was wrong. This is about as close as he’ll come, I think.
20:00 (I’m rough on the time here; this is from memory): Interesting discussion of the Russia/Ukraine war. He says that we shouldn’t put all the blame on Putin. I think this is Tyler’s way of saying that the U.S. and NATO did indeed provoke Putin even if that doesn’t justify his invasion. And it doesn’t justify his invasion. His mention of Joseph Brodsky is interesting.
My favorite part, which happens relatively late in the interview, is Tyler’s criticism of the conflict between the Pentagon and the Chinese government. It scares the hell out of me and I’m glad to see that he’s not pleased with it either. He even says a couple of times that he’s not sure who’s the bad guy.
If I gave more highlights, I would almost be repeating everything. Tyler is at his best, making pithy comments and in many cases making points that I had never thought of that, when I hear them, cause me to say, “Of course.”
I was also pleased and surprised early on–I can’t remember when in the interview–that Kelsey Piper said she has kids and wants to have six kids.
At various points, Tyler gives the kind of advice I give to young people: play to your strengths and what you enjoy rather than saying something like “The world needs more computer programmers so I should be a computer programmer.” (That’s actually an example that Kelsey gives.) Also, Tyler says “think on the margin” in various contexts. I do that too, when trying to help people do a little better, be a little better.
One last point, on drinking. Tyler says we should be like Mormons and forswear alcohol. I had my first drink when I was 21 and didn’t drink regularly until I was in my 40s. I love drinking and I have between 2 and 5 drinks a week. (I have about 10 drinks a week when I’m at my cottage.) I probably won’t go Mormon but I finally understood Tyler’s point. It’s not just that we should quit drinking for ourselves; by quitting drinking we will support people around us who don’t do as well with booze. I’m not saying I’ll change, but I might change the situations in which I drink.