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Thursday, 28 January 2021

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. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.

Growing a table in the lab

Researchers at MIT have developed a new method for growing plant tissues in a lab — sort of like how companies and researchers are approaching lab-grown meat. The process would be able to produce wood and fibre in a lab environment, and researchers have already demonstrated how it works in concept by growing simple structures using cells harvested from zinnia leaves.

Forestry has much more obvious negative environmental impacts. If the work of these researchers can eventually be used to create a way to produce lab-grown wood for use in construction and fabrication in a way that’s scalable and efficient, then there’s tremendous potential in terms of reducing the impact on forestry globally. Eventually, the team even theorizes you could coax the growth of plant-based materials into specific target shapes, so you could also do some of the manufacturing in the lab, by growing a wood table directly for instance.



When to follow a system and when to go with your gut feel

Whether we are talking about football, investing, or medicine, decision makers are often faced with the question of whether to fully trust statistical models, go with their gut, or try to come up with a hybrid approach. If you are making a large number of decisions where the consequence of each individual decision is relatively small, perhaps it makes sense to let automation decide — to implement a “pure system”. The trouble arises when you are making a single important decision with enormous stakes. Then it becomes very tempting to disregard the models and go with your gut.



Don’t waste your time on bullshit

Things that lure you into wasting your time have to be really good at tricking you. An example that will be familiar to a lot of people is arguing online. When someone contradicts you, they're in a sense attacking you. Sometimes pretty overtly. Your instinct when attacked is to defend yourself. But like a lot of instincts, this one wasn't designed for the world we now live in. Counterintuitive as it feels, it's better most of the time not to defend yourself. Otherwise these people are literally taking your life.

Arguing online is only incidentally addictive. There are more dangerous things than that. As I've written before, one byproduct of technical progress is that things we like tend to become more addictive. Which means we will increasingly have to make a conscious effort to avoid addictions to stand outside ourselves and ask "is this how I want to be spending my time?"



The next wave of AI will be based on language

The 2020s are going to bring major advances in language-based AI tasks. GPT-3, a state-of-the-art natural language processing tool developed by OpenAI, will soon be able to produce short stories, songs, press releases, technical manuals, text in the style of particular writers, and even computer code. Cloud-AI services will enable the development of a new class of enterprise apps that are more creative (or “generative” — the “G” in GPT) than anything we’ve seen before. They will make the process of synthesizing words, intentions, and information in language cheaper, which will make many business activities more efficient, stimulating growth and innovation. In light of these coming changes, companies will not only need to rethink IT resources, but also human resources.



The art of doing nothing

The idea that “doing nothing” is actually an event in and of itself. The idea that we no longer run on a treadmill of activity from getting the kids ready for school, to brushing our teeth, to conference calls, to picking up kids, fixing dinner, and bed- only to start over again. The idea that our actions day to day become influenced by our instincts and no longer by routines, shoulds, and musts.

Fighting that urge to just do, that puritan work ethic instilled in all of us at an early age, is just as much effort as going to the gym and doing the stair climber. Yet the results of our restraint are well worth the hassle.

The kind of relaxation we are looking for, and we all yearn for, does not exist on the side of a volcano, in a rare flower, or on a desolate island far away. That kind of relaxation exists within each of us and is ours for the taking if we’re willing to put in the effort.

That kind of relaxation. The sweetness of doing nothing and enjoying where we are in the present moment is the greatest thanks we can give for the lives and blessings we have.


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