Current interests

These are questions that I'm very interested in finding solutions to. I'm happy to discuss any of them at almost any time (if you're not in London, arrange a time to skype me!).

  • What factors led to periods such as Classical Greece, Renaissance Italy and Victorian England where great cultural, intellectual or economic progress occurred?
  • Why did the industrial revolution occur in England in the 18th century? More generally, was European dominance during the 18th and 19th centuries mostly a coincidence - someone had to be - or a result of systematic geographic and cultural differences between Europe and Asia?
  • Who, throughout history, has been most farsighted and correct about the future? How did they do it?
  • What historical norms or customs would we find most surprising, or most indicative of fundamentally different worldviews? How different, really, was the outlook of a typical Greek or Roman from our own?

Economics & sociology
  • What is the most important factor in promoting economic development in sub-Saharan Africa?
  • What's the best government in the world, and what makes it that way?
  • What would be the best way to fix the massive inefficiencies in higher education? Is it important and/or possible to break the pipeline of bright graduates into finance and consulting?
  • What (in social, not economic terms) would an ideal modern society look like?
  • Which local-level social norms and community structures could most easily make people happier? And what are the most important components of meaningful communities?
  • What are the main causes of significant price increases and the 'great stagnation'?

  • How have and will online social environments change the way that people think? How can we prevent them from causing mental health problems?
  • Which parts of people's behaviour are the least culturally and environmentally determined/most innate? Within a given culture, which parts of people's behaviour are most environmentally determined?

  • How is information defined in physics? Are there unifying principles behind the various information-based phenomena observed in physics (such as the Bekenstein bound and the solution to Maxwell's demon) and if so, what impact should they have on information theory and computer science?
  • What is the best interpretation of quantum physics? How might many-worlds account for the Born statistics?
  • What are the most promising areas in theoretical physics? Will string theory lead to anything?
  • What is the most plausible explanation for the Fermi paradox?
  • How might the universe be infinite? What types of multiverse exist?

CS & tech
  • Why, on a conceptual level, does deep learning work? Will it hit any major roadblocks?
  • How can machine learning systems represent and process knowledge in a way which makes them more than "just statistics"?
  • Can any computation possible in our universe be performed by a Turing machine with a randomness oracle?
  • Will quantum computing have any important applications in the next few decades apart from breaking encryption?
  • Will the handful of biggest tech companies maintain their dominant positions, or is it likely they will become much less relevant?
  • What will the developments leading up to an artificial general intelligence look like?
  • What is the best approach to AI safety research? Safer machine learning or agent foundations?

Other science
  • What are the most promising ways to radically increase human lifespans?
  • How does the brain represent and process information?
  • What are the most promising possibilities for using climate engineering to prevent further global warming?
  • Has there been significant human evolution since civilisation began?

  • What does it mean for logical principles, arithmetic statements or natural laws to be true or false?
  • How can we assign probabilities to mathematical statements (logical induction)?
  • How should Parfit's argument that personal identity is a matter of degree influence our lives?
  • How should we use anthropic reasoning? Should we choose the SIA, SSA or something else? How can those principles deal with the problem of Boltzmann brains or other issues arising from infinite universes?
  • What is the best decision theory? Does the concept of a perfectly rational decision theory even make sense?
  • How can a computational theory of consciousness specify what it means for a physical system to implement a computation? More generally, what is consciousness and how does it work?
  • How should we compare experiential happiness with life satisfaction? Which should we value more?
  • More generally, how can we combine hedonic and preference utilitarianism?
  • Even more generally: given contradictory moral intuitions about extreme cases, how can we decide which far future to aim for?

  • What's your ideal lifestyle?
  • To what extent is that based around an aesthetic judgement of what a good life looks like?
  • What are the best ways to make good friends?
  • What traits do you most value in friends?
  • What traits do you most value in a partner?
  • What are the most useful habits to have?
  • How do you motivate yourself?
  • What cognitive biases is it most vital to avoid?
  • In personal terms, what is the value of reading literature?
  • To what extent do you treat knowledge as a terminal goal?
  • Does it worry you that you've forgotten much of your life? Should it?

  • What led you to realise the most important intellectual insights you've ever had?
  • What led you to make the most important lifestyle changes you've ever made?
  • What questions would be on your list, that should be on mine?

1 comment:

  1. On the first history question you should read Geography of Genius which analyses why certain societies flourished at different times
    - it's sitting on the living room table awaiting your return.