Balaji on decentralized science

Balaji Srinivasan – Exploring the Decentralized Science Reformation | The DeSci Podcast #2

Check out the DeSci Podcast Episode Page and Show Notes 

Key Takeaways

  • Centralization, specifically the U.S. government, is most responsible for holding back scientific progress 
  • Balaji believes the year 1950 was “peak centralization”: there was one telephone company (AT&T), two superpowers (U.S. and USSR), and three television stations (CBS, ABC, and NBC)
    • The level of centralization from the 1950s to today is atypical in history, but many people believe it to be the norm because it is all they have known  
  • Implementing components of the venture capital model, and removing the bureaucratic grant structure of academia, would improve the scientific research and funding structure
  • “You’ll know that the system is being fixed when Satoshi, Snowden, and Alexandra Elbakyan get Nobel Prizes.” Balaji Srinivasan
  • Open-style, decentralized funding is now an option for scientists; they can monetize their teachings outside of academia and raise capital to pursue their scientific curiosities, or start a company, for example 
  • Three baskets of technologies will coordinate large numbers of human beings, which he refers to as the NYT, BTC, and CCP triangle
  • Mathematical capability is one of the best ways to measure a civilization’s progress 
  • Homo sapiens were better at math than Neanderthals, and the successor to homo sapiens will be better at math than it
  • The Helical Theory of History: Cycles play out in history, but generally there is progress
  • We are at the beginning of digital history; it’s hard to think of ourselves at the beginning of something because we often think of ourselves as the culmination of something

Intro

  • Balaji Srinivasan (@balajis) is an entrepreneur, author, angel investor, the former Chief Technology Officer at Coinbase, and a former general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. His new book, The Network State, explains how new technologies can be used to create a successor to the nation-state. 
  • In this conversation, Balaji joins the DeSci Podcast to share why the U.S. government stifles scientific progress, how to fix the scientific research funding structure, why the media became the tip of the spear for the establishment, the NYT-BTC-CCP triangle, artificial intelligence, how to better learn from history, and why we are at the beginning of digital history 
  • Check out these Podcast Notes from Balaji’s appearance on The Tim Ferriss Show 
  • Hosts –  Alex LaBossiere (@adlabossiere) and Vincent Weisser (@vincentweisser

The Key Factors Holdings Back Scientific Progress 

  • The nation-state justifies its actions through “science”, but it’s not science if the process is not reproducible 
  • Centralization, specifically the U.S. government, is most responsible for holding back scientific progress 
  • The same cohort of people in the centralized scientific establishment award the research funding to themselves and others on their committees 
  • The old guard in science does not want to retract their findings or relinquish their power; NIH members are getting older and older 
  • Open-source science is making its return thanks to the internet 
  • Balaji believes 1950 was “peak centralization”: there was one telephone company (AT&T), two superpowers (U.S. and USSR), and three television stations (CBS, ABC, and NBC)
    • Historically, this degree of centralization is atypical, but many people believe it to be the norm because of recency bias 
  • The centralization of power in the 1950s contributed to the high degree of scientific centralization that we see today, which is also atypical over a sufficiently long historical timeline
  • Balaji believes we must transition away from the centralized, scientific establishment if we want to progress 

How To Change the Legacy Research and Funding Structure in Science

  • Trying to fix the legacy research and funding structure from within the system is the wrong way to approach the problem
    • If Balaji was given full control of the NIH, he’d give up full control
  • “I don’t believe that you can abolish the Fed. I do believe that you can exit the Fed.” – Balaji Srinivasan  
  • Implementing components of the venture capital model, and removing the bureaucratic grant structure of academia, would improve the scientific research and funding structure
    • Example: Fund an independent person or small group to do the basic science for 1-3 years and start a company if the project works. If it doesn’t work, either find someone else that wants to fund it or shut the project down. 
  • Open-style, decentralized funding is now an option for scientists such as Andrew Huberman and David Sinclair; they can monetize their teachings outside of academia and raise capital to pursue their curiosities in the field of science, or start a company, for example 

Commonalities Between New York Times & Scientific Journals 

  • The fast-moving nature of media allowed for media institutions to keep up with the emerging Silicon Valley tech elite, so the media companies became the tip of the spear for the establishment
    • The other institutions like Hollywood, academia, and Washington D.C. take much longer to process new information and pivot, so they were not immediately relied on by the establishment to counter the emergence of the tech elite 
  • If pressed, the legacy media will cite the slower-moving academia institutions to further its agenda because they have the backing of “science” 
    • Example: Legacy media says [this thing] is true because [science] 
  • “Science is about independent replication, not prestigious citation.” – Balaji Srinivasan
  • “You’ll know that the system is being fixed when Satoshi, Snowden, and Alexandra Elbakyan get Nobel Prizes.” – Balaji Srinivasan, caveated with his belief that the Nobel is a broken prize 
  • The next tier up from “reproducible research” is “truly reproducible research” where the data is stored on an immutable, public blockchain 
  • Only Google can do Google Scholar, but someone will someday liberate all of the scientific content and put it on a public blockchain 
  • Having the papers on-chain allows people to trace the citations back to the original work
  • Having a network of papers kept on-chain effectively creates a function call when a given paper is cited 
  • Balaji believes “crypto instruments” will enable the creation of a digital chain of custody for videos, images, articles, etc. on the internet  

How Scientific Progress Unfolds 

  • Balaji made a bet with a friend that artificial intelligence would come up with mathematical proofs that humans had yet to discover 
  • Balaji believes mathematical capability is one of the best ways to measure a civilization’s progress 
  • Another way to measure human progress is by the Kardashev scale, which is a measurement that’s used to measure technological achievement based on the amount of energy a civilization is able to use 
  • Homo sapiens were better at math than Neanderthals, and the successor to homo sapiens will be better at math than it

The NYT-BTC-CCP Triangle

  • Balaji sees three baskets of technologies coordinating large numbers of human beings, which he refers to as the NYT-BTC-CCP triangle

Source: The Network State

  • NYT (New York Times) is the social component, left democracy with elections and speech 
  • BTC (Bitcoin) is right-democracy with markets, auctions, and exits   
  • CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is neither left or right, but harmonic; it is the artificial intelligence component that takes all the aspects of the left, right, markets, and democracy, and puts it into “one” 
    • He uses the CCP as the symbol because it is building an all-seeing AI god that is effectively controlled by one person
  • Crypto can be corrupted and become centralized via Central Bank Digital Currencies to the benefit of the rulers, but artificial intelligence can also become more decentralized and empower the masses  

Using Historical Analogies to Make Technological Predictions  

  • We are at the beginning of digital history; it’s hard to think of ourselves at the beginning of something because we often think of ourselves as the culmination 
  • Improvements in our ability to analogize with better mapping technologies will help us better learn from history and further contribute to our evolution 

The Helical Progress Theory of History  

  • There are three theories of progress in history: linear, cyclical, and helical
  • Balaji subscribes to the helical theory, which acknowledges that cycles play out in history, but that there is generally progress 
  • The internet may allows us to encrypt humanity 
    • People have never been more physically visible than they are today thanks to Google images and social media (we are at peak visibility) 
    • People will fight back against the CCP-type surveillance state by using digital technologies and VR-overlays to shield their true identities with encryption

Advice for Builders in the DeSci Space

  • Build a demonstration of truly reproducible research by doing the following: 
    • Take two statistics papers where one cites the other (or uses a function from the other)
    • Put them on-chain with the data on arweave
    • Show how you did the previous two steps  

Additional Resources Mentioned 

  • 3Blue1Brown YouTube Channel
    • An educational YouTube channel that uses animated content to explain complex mathematical concepts in simpler ways
  • Sci-Hub 
    • The first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers 
  • Princeton Companion to Mathematics 
    • A one-of-a-kind reference for anyone with an insatiable interest in mathematics
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Notes By Stan Rizzo

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