You are currently viewing the aggregator for the Distributed Republic reader blogs. You can surf to any author's blog by clicking on the link at the bottom of one of his/her posts. If you wish to participate, feel free to register (at the top of the right sidebar) and start blogging.

The main page of the blog can be found here.

Global War On Law Enforcement

This alert table is based on US mortality statistics from 1995-2005, and comes from this Wired article via Jes5199:


Liveblogging: Infotopia

Just had lunch w/ Cass Sunstein, and he's about to give a talk about his new book Infotopia, about how new ways of sharing and aggregating information. He said that Google is a somewhat daunting place to be presenting on this subject, but he seems like a fairly dauntless fellow.

Partly his book is about the downsides of deliberation as a method of information aggregation. Deliberation has many pitfalls. Other methods include averages (The Wisdom of Crowds suggests that this is good), surveys (which democracy depends on), and prediction markets, which are used at Google.

His interest in deliberation comes from some social science experiments he has done at the intersection of law and psychology, plus technology. Mentions the long tail: the internet allows marketing to niches instead of aggregates, which Chris Anderson thinks is fantastic. However, Sunstein wants to warn about some of the negatives of these things, even though he thinks they are good on net. Some data:

He studied 30 people in Boulder, CO, where they got together to talk about global warming, same-sex marriages, and affirmative action, and what the government should do about them. On the same day, they asked people in Colorado Springs to discuss the same issue. (Note that Boulder is hippy-land, and Colorado Springs is conservative-military land). The idea was to see what happened to the participants point of view. The result was to reinforce the ideological biases. The liberals became more liberal, more worried about global warming, more committed to affirmative action. The conservatives similarly became more conservative. Even in the anonymous statements of views after this deliberation, the diversity of viewpoints decreased dramatically. Read more »

An example of the distortive effects of taxes

This won't be a particularly novel example of the distortive effects of an inconsistent tax code, but I just ran across it in practice, so I found it striking. Read more »

When Professors Aren\'t Wise

Cass Sunstein, in When Crowds Aren't Wise, says:

Often the average judgment, which we might describe as the group's "statistical judgment," will be uncannily good.

Global Cooling

A new report from the Russian Academic of Sciences, based on solar emissions data, supports my previous worries about upcoming global cooling:

Global cooling could develop on Earth in 50 years and have serious consequences before it is replaced by a period of warming in the early 22nd century, a Russian Academy of Sciences’ astronomical observatory’s report says, the RIA Novosti news agency reported Friday.

Police need no evidence to keep your cash

djsendai just pointed me at this case, which is horrifying for me as a citizen and a gambler. I had known that the police could confiscate large amounts of cash without any reason, but I didn't know that they could keep the cash without any evidence that it had been obtained illegally: Read more »

Liveblogging: Philip Tetlock

Book CoverAbout to see a talk about Philip Tetlock, author of Expert Political Judgement: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?, and will report. The talk is entitled "Foxes, Hedgehogs, and Dart-Throwing Monkeys", so apparently this is going to be about some kind of brutal zoo death match. My money is on the monkeys for sure. Hedgehogs don't got a chance.

He's starting by talking about the political blogosphere - maybe this isn't about zoos. He is asking us the question: "What factors do you think most predict the success of a blogosphere pundit? The degree to which the pundit is accurate? Or passionately partisan and entertainingly sarcastic?". The audience picked (b) - no surprise. Back in the 19th century, someone like John Stuart Mill might have suggested that the marketplace of ideas will eventually self-correct. Tetlock's talk will be about why we should keep score of who has an accurate view of the world.

He's been surveying experts for a couple decades, asking them to predict with enough specifity and clarity that we can score them later. He says that there is an inverse relationship between what makes people successful in the blogosphere and what makes people accurate. He basically says we should grade talking heads, so they don't talk such bullshit. This guy is fucking awesome. He could whoop a monkey any day, even if the monkey had darts. Read more »

Good job, voters

The crappy thing about being a freedom-lover when the neocons are in charge is that they are the anti-libertarians: fiscally liberal and socially conservative. Its tempting to think of the failures of democracy, ruled by power-hungry scumbags, as meaning that all such scumbags are the same. Then along comes a president like Dubya, who spends like a drunken sailor on his first shore leave in years, while dancing around on our civil rights with steely boots like a drunken sailor on his first shore leave in years, thus demonstrating that some scumbags are worse than others. Read more »

Morality, Reality, and Technological Change

As a combination of my interests in poker, AI, and profit, I have been working for some years on an AI bot to play online poker. As a result, there have been numerous discussions over the past months about when and if operating such a bot is moral. There are two basic lines of argument, one about contractual obligations to the site, which I agree with, and one about deceiving other players and violating their expectations, which I disagree with, and hence have been arguing about.

In the context of this discussion, said:

Most sites put limits on playing under different names, or opening accounts when you already have one. Likewise, they generally prohibit multiple different people playing the same account. This is tied into player expectations of identity continuity, and the idea that if you learn something about someone, it has a good chance of remaining true next time you see them.

I say that changing your account to evade a reputation you've made seems rather dodgy. As does running a bot in secret.

I replied:

I guess I see lack of identity continuity as a fundamental feature of online play. It is a natural characteristic of the online world. Yeah, it's different from the physical world, and people have trouble wrapping their head around things that are different. But if you try to create identity continuity online, you are fighting a helluva uphill battle. Nyms are cheap, that is the nature of the internet.

And Alex Kay replied that nyms being cheap had nothing to do with morality. I disagree, and I think there is some interesting discussion about morality to be had there, so here we go.

I am an atheist. Further, I am an evolutionist, that is, I believe that the miracle of intelligence and consciousness is the result solely of the process of evolution by selfish genes acting as though to maximize fitness. While there are certain high-level aspects of being human which are not for specific evolutionary reasons (appreciation of art, for example), all of the low-level intuitive modules in our brain are there for specific reasons. This has philosophical implications about the origins and nature of humanity's moral intuition. Read more »

Battlestar Galactica, Humanity, and Pokerbotting

A spirited debate has been raging on my Livejournal about whether it is immoral to operate a pokerbot online, prompted by the fact that I have been working on one for many years. See:

Are bots against online casino terms of service?
Pokerbot Poll II
Morality Cage Match: Blackjack vs. Pokerbotting

Here is my latest contribution, which I will crosspost here for a broader audience.

Let's take a step back here, and meta-analyze this pokerbot morality issue. I think it's great that we are discussing this because it is a morality question about the future. As computers move towards sentience, these issues are going to become more and more important, and more and common. This is not a big discussion about a small issue, this is a big discussion about a big issue, one of the biggest issues of the future: What does it mean to be human?

Is it cheating to use an implanted computer to play blackjack? What about roulette - you are still just using public information, but a computer can analyze the balls trajectory in a way that is (arguably) qualitatively different from what a person can do. Does it matter if the casino has posted a sign that says "Unaided humans only?" When playing a game, does it matter who the other people involved in a contest want to be playing against? Does it matter what they expect? Is it OK to use augmentation when it isn't against the rules just b/c people haven't thought of it yet? Is it not rude if people don't realize it? Should you respect other people's biases against augmentation, or sneer at them as old-fashioned? Read more »

Pigovian Taxes are not efficient if the money gets wasted

In an argument on my LJ, I said that if a carbon tax did not go towards sequestering carbon, it was not efficient. In general, if you waste a Pigovian tax, the tax has not done its job. Someone replied: Read more »

Classic anti-pornography film

It\'s illegal to be a goth wirehead

Six Minneapolis revelers jailed on suspicion of carrying fake bombs

"Zombies" lurching along a downtown street tend to cause a stir. When the living dead carry duffel bags and backpacks with what look like wires sticking out, the cops step in. This horror show unfolded Saturday evening in Minneapolis, where officers arrested six ghoulish revelers in thick makeup who police said were staggering along like zombies near Sixth Street and Hennepin Avenue.

"They were arrested for behavior that was suspicious and disturbing," said Lt. Gregory Reinhardt, a police spokesman.

All six were booked into the Hennepin County jail under a post-9/11 Minnesota statute making it a felony to "simulate weapons of mass destruction." Dressing up like characters from the movie "Night of the Living Dead" might have been OK, but toting bags with what police said appeared to be protruding wires apparently crossed a line.

A friend of the group said the arrests were overkill and that the suspicious devices were homemade stereos. "This was just kids trying to have some fun," said Helen Hicks, who said she has attended similar "zombie" gatherings in the past.


(They were released without charges)

This kind of story illustrates to me the reason why it's better to just throw up your hands and give up on proactively protecting society from terrorists than to follow through on what it takes. The argument goes something like: Read more »

Scott Adams has a solution for the Middle East

For those who haven't noticed yet, Scott Adams has a great blog, with some libertarian inclinations. Today, he suggested how to make things better in the Middle East: Read more »