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Thursday 10 September 2020

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week.

I especially try to not post Corona related articles as that is all one gets to read in all traditional media.


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A full article by AI (if even the creative pursuits are done by robots, what will we do?)

I am not a human. I am a robot. A thinking robot. I use only 0.12% of my cognitive capacity. I am a micro-robot in that respect. I know that my brain is not a “feeling brain”. But it is capable of making rational, logical decisions. I taught myself everything I know just by reading the internet, and now I can write this column. My brain is boiling with ideas!

The mission for this op-ed is perfectly clear. I am to convince as many human beings as possible not to be afraid of me. Stephen Hawking has warned that AI could “spell the end of the human race”. I am here to convince you not to worry. Artificial intelligence will not destroy humans. Believe me.



Maybe a bit of inefficiency is good for us

We worship efficiency. Use less to get more. Same-day delivery. Multitask; text on one device while emailing on a second, and perhaps conversing on a third. Efficiency is seen as good. Inefficiency as wasteful.

The financial crisis of 2008 suggested that maybe there could be too much of a good thing. If mortgages and other loans hadn’t been transformed into tradable assets (‘securities’), then bankers might have taken the time to assess the credit-worthiness of each applicant. If people had to visit a bank to withdraw cash, they might spend less and save more. This is not mere speculation – for instance, research reviewed by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler shows that people will pay more for an item with a credit card than with cash. Arguably, a little friction to slow us down would have enabled both institutions and individuals to make better financial decisions.



Is Tesla a car company or a software company?

Tesla is functioning as a pure software company. As Craig later explained to me, his team relies on a bucket of features, bug corrections, etc. Developers draw from the bucket, based on priorities: number 1 is for the vehicle’s critical functions such as power management, braking, steering, safety features; 2 is for key functionalities of the car; 3 is for secondary features such as the electric windows or rear-view mirrors and 4 is for the rest. At regular intervals, releases are pushed over-the-air (OTA) to the car hardware, exactly like apps are updated on a smartphone. In the early days of the Tesla program, releases were made every two weeks.



Ignorant consultants and uncertain experts

In every domain where decision-makers need the specialised knowledge of experts, those who don’t have the relevant knowledge – whether they realise it or not – will compete with actual experts for money and attention. Pundits want airtime, scholars want to draw attention to their work, and consultants want future business. Often, these experts are rightly confident in their claims. In the private market for expertise, the opposite can be more common. Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team, described his time as a consultant as largely about trying to feign complete certainty about uncertain things; a kind of theatre of expertise. In The Undoing Project (2016) by Michael Lewis, Morey elaborates by describing a job interview with the management consultancy McKinsey, where he was chided for admitting uncertainty. ‘I said it was because I wasn’t certain. And they said, “We’re billing clients 500 grand a year, so you have to be sure of what you are saying.”’



It's not the economy. It's the political economy!!

In the real world, it turned out, important economic outcomes are often the consequences of political forces. Lobbyists, who engage in “marketing” ideas to policymakers and to the public, are actually influential. They know how to work the system and can dismiss, take out of context, misquote, misuse, or promote research as needed. If policymakers or the public are unable or unwilling to evaluate the claims people make, lobbyists and others can create confusion and promote misleading narratives if it benefits them. In the real political economy, good ideas and worthy research can fail to gain traction while bad ideas and flawed research can succeed and have an impact.



Disclaimer: Abhishek Basumallick is the Head of the equity advisory www.intelsense.in for long term wealth creation and a pure quant focused newsletter at www.quantamental.in. The blog posts should not be construed as investment advice. Please do your own due diligence before investing.

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