Links April 2021

Why hasn’t 3D printing come to clothes? “Pore structures and air permeability are properties that make comfortable clothes. In principle, it’s exactly these structures that define textiles, which you cannot achieve with 3D printing” https://buff.ly/2I9Bo47

The Hardware Lottery — Hardware, systems and algorithms research communities have historically had different incentive structures and fluctuating motivation to engage with each other explicitly. This historical treatment is odd given that hardware and software have frequently determined which research ideas succeed (and fail). This essay introduces the term hardware lottery to describe when a research idea wins because it is suited to the available software and hardware and not because the idea is superior to alternative research directions. Examples from early computer science history illustrate how hardware lotteries can delay research progress by casting successful ideas as failures. These lessons are particularly salient given the advent of domain specialized hardware which make it increasingly costly to stray off of the beaten path of research ideas. This essay posits that the gains from progress in computing are likely to become even more uneven, with certain research directions moving into the fast-lane while progress on others is further obstructed. (link)

Wooldridge’s Twitter lessons, collected in a Google Doc [link]

High quality audio makes you sound smarter [link]

An outline of “The Anatomy of Power” by John Kenneth Galbraith [link]

Sperm whales in 19th century shared ship attack information [link] – A remarkable new study on how whales behaved when attacked by humans in the 19th century has implications for the way they react to changes wreaked by humans in the 21st century.

We explore the role of defaults and choice architecture on student loan decision-making, experimentally testing the impact pre-populating either decline or accept decisions compared to an active choice, no pre-population, decision. We demonstrate that the default choice presented does influence student loan borrowing decisions. Specifically, compared to active choice, students presented within a pre-populated decline decision were almost five percent less likely to accept all packaged loans and borrowed between 4.6 and 4.8 percent less in federal educational loans. The reductions in borrowing appears to be concentrated within unsubsidized loans with those assigned to the opt-in condition borrowing 8.3 percent less in unsubsidized loans. These changes in borrowing did not induce substitution towards private or Parent PLUS loans nor did they negatively impact enrollment, academic performance, or on-campus work outcomes in the same academic year. [source]

This paper analyzes how computerization affected the labor market outcomes of older workers between 1984 and 2017. Using the computerization supplements of the Current Population Survey (CPS) we show that different occupations were computerized at different times, older workers tended to start using computers with a delay compared to younger workers, but computer use within occupations converged to the same levels across age groups eventually. That is, there was a temporary knowledge gap between younger and older workers in most occupations. We estimate how this knowledge gap affected older workers' labor market outcomes using data from the CPS and the Health and Retirement Study. Our models control for occupation and time fixed effects and in some models; we also control for full occupation-time interactions and use middle aged (age 40-49) workers as the control group. We find strong and robust negative effects of the knowledge gap on wages, and a large, temporary increase in transitions from work to non-participation, consistent with a model of creative destruction in which the computerization of jobs made older workers' skills obsolete in birth cohorts that experienced computerization relatively late in their careers. We find larger effects on females and on middle-skilled workers. [NBER]

The current biodiversity crisis is often depicted as a struggle to preserve untouched habitats. Here, we combine global maps of human populations and land use over the past 12,000 y with current biodiversity data to show that nearly three quarters of terrestrial nature has long been shaped by diverse histories of human habitation and use by Indigenous and traditional peoples. With rare exceptions, current biodiversity losses are caused not by human conversion or degradation of untouched ecosystems, but rather by the appropriation, colonization, and intensification of use in lands inhabited and used by prior societies. Global land use history confirms that empowering the environmental stewardship of Indigenous peoples and local communities will be critical to conserving biodiversity across the planet. [PNAS]

“Rather than wondering ponderously if this is “cancel culture” or whatever, we might ask ourselves: Why the fuck were all these people tweeting? What were they thinking? What were they hoping to accomplish? What was the cost-benefit analysis that led them to think continued participation in social media was a good idea? Liberal and left-wing tech critics like to suggest that we post, even against our own self-interest, thanks to nefarious software design that has been built in service of a multibillion-dollar advertising industry. The right wing has a tendency to blame the incentives encouraged by a hardwired social hierarchy, in which “blue checks” “virtue-signal” to improve their standing within social platforms, even to the point of self-sabotage. Neither answer seems particularly satisfying. Viewing anecdotes of sudden social combustion according to comprehensive, deterministic accounts of neurochemical response, social dynamics, and platform incentives can certainly be clarifying, but such theories are incomplete. After all, Mark Zuckerberg is not pointing a gun at anyone’s head, ordering them to use Instagram—and yet we post as though he is. Perhaps the best lens to examine compulsive, unproductive, inexplicable use of social media is not technical, or sociological, or economic, but psychoanalytic. In which case, rather than asking what is wrong with these systems, we might ask, “What is wrong with us?”” [source]

I don’t know if this is still up to date: “The choice overload hypothesis states that an increase in the number of options to choose from may lead to adverse consequences such as a decrease in the motivation to choose or the satisfaction with the finally chosen option. A number of studies found strong instances of choice overload in the lab and in the field, but others found no such effects or found that more choices may instead facilitate choice and increase satisfaction. In a meta-analysis of 63 conditions from 50 published and unpublished experiments (N = 5,036), we found a mean effect size of virtually zero but considerable variance between studies. While further analyses indicated several potentially important preconditions for choice overload, no sufficient conditions could be identified. However, some idiosyncratic moderators proposed in single studies may still explain when and why choice overload reliably occurs; we review these studies and identify possible directions for future research.” [JCR]


First published May 3, 2021