The Knowledge Project – Winning at the Great Game (Part 2) with Adam Robinson

Check out The Knowledge Project Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Sometime in the next few decades, an algorithm, or a robot powered by an algorithm, is going to do whatever you do, better, faster, more reliably, and cheaper
  • When you use Google, Facebook, or Amazon, they’re all gathering data on you
    • They’re then able to use that data, and monetize it
  • We tend to think that the more information we get, the better decisions we’ll make – that’s not usually true
    • Extra information, just feeds our confirmation bias
    • We tend to have our decisions made, after receiving only a few pieces of information – more information just makes us more confident in a decision we’ve already made
  • As you become an expert in a particular field – You learn what not to pay attention, so that you can give more attention to what’s important
  • “The secret to learning anything is rehearsing”
    • Break what you’re learning down into sub-skills, and then rehearse each of those individually

Intro

An Interesting Tidbit on Grading

  • Through studies, Adam has found that the process of grading, by teachers, is more subjective than we’d like to believe
    • In one study, he found that having a female name attached to the paper being graded, improved scores by an extra quarter of a letter grade (The grading scale was as follows – A=4.0, B=3.0, C=2.0)
    • It was worth a full half of a letter grade extra, if a male teacher was doing the grading – So male teachers graded female students half a letter grade easier, than they graded male students
    • Both teachers, male and female, graded the opposite sex more leniently
    • Both male and female teachers graded boys more harshly
  • In school, we’re taught to follow instructions, and do what’s expected
    • However, in life, there aren’t many “assignments” like that

Jobs and AI

  • “Sometime in the next few decades, an algorithm, or a robot powered by algorithms, is going to do whatever you do, better, faster, more reliably, and cheaper”
    • “This scares me, for the world, because people define themselves by what they’re able to contribute economically.”
  • Stephen Hawking gave mankind a 1 in 20 shot of “surviving AI”
  • What will happen if people, eventually, don’t have to work and we move to a universal basic income model?
    • “Psychologically if you’re not contributing to society, there’s an impact on you as a person” – Shane
    • Most people, without work, probably wouldn’t know what to do with themselves
  • People think of AI as “an intelligence that left on it’s own, can learn”
    • But right now, we don’t really have this – it’s more “machine learning pattern recognition”
  • AI and Chess
    • The best chess player in the world has a chess rating of ~2820
    • The best chess computer software, trained on human games, has a chess rating of 3300
    • Google’s company, Deep Mind, created a software called Alphazero, which learned the game of chess essentially by playing against itself, rather than against humans, knowing only the rules of chess
      • In only 4 hours, that program achieved a chess rating of ~3700
      • This Alphazero software played 100 matches against the previously best chess software (which, as mentioned, had a chess rating of 3300), and didn’t lose a single game
      • In reviewing the games that the software played, many of its chess moves seem rather alien to us as humans
      • “Imagine if that software is unleashed not in the domain of chess, but other domains. It will totally create everything we know, and then go beyond it…in hours!”
  • “The scary thing with AI is this – it will become exponentially smarter than we are, in minutes”
  • “The thing about algorithms and AI – they are optimizing, unforgiving, and relentless because they just continue to optimize. Whatever values you’ve put into the AI, it will just execute that with unstoppable efficiency.”

Data

  • When you use Google, Facebook, or Amazon – they’re all gathering data on you
    • They’re then able to use that data, and monetize it
    • Everything is data – “If Shane hasn’t used Google in 3 days, then Google has learned something about Shane”
    • It is so remarkable how much data Facebook, Google etc. have on you
  • In the U.S., the user doesn’t own their data, the company gathering the data does
    • In Europe, the individual owns his or her data
  • The value emerges, not just from having your data, but from cross referencing it with other people’s data
    • The companies are then able to use statistics and machine learning to find patterns, so they uncover things about you, that you didn’t even know
    • For example – Amazon suggests books you might like to read, or products you might like to buy, Netflix suggests shows you might like
    • “Google, Facebook, Amazon – they know things about you that you don’t even know, for sure”
      • They can then leverage that –  “They know exactly what you will and won’t buy, and they know what price points to offer it to you at. How can someone compete with that?”

More on Chess

  • Adam learned to play chess by watching his dad play, and playing against a friend as a freshman in high school
    • He fine tuned his skills over time by reading My 60 Memorable Games, a book by Bobby Fischer where he goes over the moves he made in each of these 60 games, describing why he did what he did in each situation 
      • Adam played over these games, many times, until he knew them by heart
    • In a few years, he became on of the best high school chess players in the country
  • One day walking in NY, Adam spotted Bobby Fischer, and ran up to talk to him
    • Over time, Bobby became a mentor of Adams
  • Adam then tells about the time he got to spend ~2 weeks with Bobby at a resort called Grossinger’s in the Catskills, while Bobby trained/prepared for the chess world championship
    • What did Adam learn from Bobby during this time?
      • He says Bobby woke up every day at 11-12pm, and went to sleep at 3-4am – This taught Adam that not everyone does their best work from 9am-5pm
        • Adam says he works best after 10pm
      • “Fisher hated losing, but he wanted to win more” – He had a ferocious will to win
        • “There are two ways to live your life – you can play to win, or you can play not to lose”

The Role of Information in Decision Making

  • Human beings have limited processing abilities
    • Our brains have a limited working memory (we can’t contain all that much information in our heads at any one point)
    • Because of this – we have a hard time dealing with too much information
    • We tend to think that the more information we get, the better decisions we’ll make- that’s not usually true
    • Extra information, just feeds our confirmation bias
      • We tend to have our decisions made, after receiving only a few pieces of information – more information just makes us more confident in a decision we’ve already made
  • Instead of information gathering, try to focus more on the 2-3 pieces of information that affect 90% of the outcome
    • There’s a saying in Zen Buddhism – “The beginner mind sees many possibilities. The expert sees only a few.”
    • Think of the process of learning to drive
      • When we start driving, we’re terrified, we don’t know what to look at…there’s millions of inputs
      • Over time, we learn what pieces of information are relevant, and what aren’t
  • As you become an expert in a field – “You learn what not to pay attention, so that you can give more attention to what’s important”

Get Good at a Few Things Before You Expand

  • In the US, you don’t really begin to specialize, or go into depth in a field or a subject, until graduate school
  • Many people who receive general liberal arts educations, only touch the surface of many subjects, without going into depth
    • The logic is that if you learn a little, about a lot of different subjects, then you’ll be able to generalize and think about everything
      • Adam disagrees, because you’re not really learning how to think
    • “It would be much better if you learned one or two things really well, and then branched out from there”
      • Specifically, Adam thinks students should learn how tor read well, write well, and understand rudimentary mathematics for the first 8 school years, and then move on to another subject, one at a time
      • “Learn one thing well, and then you can learn anything well”

How do we learn?

  • Adam wrote a book 25 years ago called – What Smart Students Know: Maximum Grades. Optimum Learning. Minimum Time.
  • Adam has some good tips to boost memorization skills – Create a picture, a pattern, a story, or a rhyme to help
  • “The secret to learning anything is rehearsing”
    • Break what you’re learning down into sub-skills, and then rehearse each of those individually
      • “If you’re doing something other than that, you’re wasting your time”
    • Example – If you want to get good at taking tests: 
      • Firstly, take practice tests
      • Rehearse each of the sub-steps of test taking:
        • Read and understand the question
        • Search your memory for the relevant information
        • Form that information into an answer
        • Write and explain the answer
  • Just memorizing your notes, is not rehearsing any of the sub-skills of test taking
    • If you do this, all you’re getting good at is following problems that you’ve seen before – that’s not going to help you when you get a new problem
    • Instead – do many practice questions that you’ve never seen before
  • Adam has another good tip:
    • Do sample questions, before even reading the chapter 
    • This primes you for what’s relevant and what’s not
  • Want to get good at job interviews?
    • Have someone you don’t know ask you interview questions and allow them to provide feedback
  • When Adam is rehearsing for a talk, he does it in front of people who don’t know him
    • He does this, so he is more likely to get honest feedback – friends are too prone to be nice

A Great Question to Ask Friends

  • “What do people know about me, that I don’t know about myself?”

What are some of the best teachings Adam has received from other people?

  • We’re always teaching whether we know it or not 
    • Specifically with kids/parents – your children are always internalizing what you say
    • “It’s astonishing the impact that offhand comments can have on young people”

A Good Thought to Close

  • “I’m really worried about the world, and I’m worried about young people in particular – the under 25 generation. They’re inheriting a world that’s falling apart, and their brains and attention have been highjacked by technology. I’m deeply worried.”
    • “They’re inheriting a world where there are few, if any, positive voices. I think that’s what’s needed in the world right now. We need beacons of people offering positive visions that others can rally behind.”
    • So be a positive voice in the world – stick your neck out

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