Sunday Scaries (6/28/20)

Forecasting economic growth, a primer on synthetic biology, and Google-fu.

Happy Sunday everyone!

Before we get started, a quick rundown on the new format for this publication:

  • Each Sunday, subscribers receive an email that contains links to the most interesting content I find each week. I spend a lot of time sifting through pages of articles, essays, and papers so you don’t have to.

  • On Friday, paid subscribers receive an essay on how to build your digital presence and emerging trends that shape our future.

Starting in one week, only paid subscribers will get the Friday newsletter weekly. Sunday Scaries will remain free for all.

✨ To thank you for being an early supporter, subscribe in the next 36 hours and get 20% off for the first year — $8/month ✨

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What’s New This Week

  1. On Maintenance and Machine Learning. In this essay, I break down why you should pay more attention to your body’s maintenance. I wrote this piece after seeing a trend of smart people using specialized devices to track their metabolism. This is one of those ideas that will seem obvious to future generations.

  2. Sunday Scaries. I’ve officially changed the domain of this site to Sunday Scaries. Previously, it was linked to my real name, but after seeing the backlash against thoughtful bloggers like Scott Alexander, this is a hill I’m not willing to die on.

  3. Good Job, Bad Job. This is one of my most popular essays by far. I wrote this piece after reading “The Hard Things about Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. In it, I describe the qualities that are important to look for in a career.

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📈 Modeling the Human Trajectory.

This lengthy post is a fascinating analysis of the history and projected growth of human economic output. Dealing with the recent explosion in GDP is one of the difficulties when trying to forecast economic growth.

Most projections make the mistake of assuming a steady growth rate. In reality, recent growth has been super-exponential. Extrapolate this trend out a few decades and our projections go to infinity. Clearly this is a flaw in our forecasting ability, but it does lend some clues. Takeaways:

  1. If the patterns of history continue, then some sort of economic explosion will take place again, the most plausible channel being AI.

  2. The fact that our models forecast an explosion of growth is a sign of instability in the human trajectory.

The entire post is worth reading in some detail. If you are interested in this type of thing, I would encourage you to join the Progress Studies community. Progress Studies is a multi-disciplinary group of academics, industry professionals, and independent researchers that discuss the science of economic and technological progress. If you’d like an invite, reply directly to this email and I would be happy to get you introduced.

🧬 How To Get Started in Synthetic Biology.

Synthetic biology is the most underrated field of emerging technology.

Unfortunately, the prerequisite knowledge to get started is so damn high. Last year, I wrote of series of essays examining the following questions for synthetic biology:

Writing these essays made me realize just how much training is needed to achieve basic fluency. The post above breaks down the basic building blocks for aspiring scientists. This is like someone handing you a primer on the internet in 1991.

👩‍💻 Internet Search Tips.

Google-Fu is a superpower. 90% of my job seems to be knowing how to find things quickly on the internet.

This post is from Gwern, one of the best pseudo-anonymous blogs on the internet. It breaks down expert-level tips for leveling up your search skills. Some big tips:

Thanks for reading,


Sunday Scaries is a newsletter that summarizes my findings from the week in technology. It's part soapbox, part informative. It's free, you’re reading it right now, and you can subscribe by clicking the link below 👇 

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