Robin Hanson: My best idea was prediction markets.

Robin Hanson‘s auto-biography (i.e., how Our Master Of All Universes views HimSelf):


Robin Hanson:

Do you find it hard to summarize yourself in a few words? Me too.

But I love the above quote. I have a passion, a sacred quest, to understand everything, and to save the world. I am addicted to “viewquakes”, insights which dramatically change my world view. I loved science fiction as a child, and have studied physics, philosophy, artificial intelligence, economics, and political science — all fields full of such insights. Unfortunately, this also tempted me to leave subjects after mastering their major insights.

I also have a rather critical style. I beat hard on new ideas, seek out critics, and then pledge my allegiance only to those still left standing. In conversation, I prefer to identify a claim at issue, and then focus on analyzing it, rather than the usual quick tours past hundreds of issues. I have always asked questions, even when I was very young.

I have little patience with those whose thinking is sloppy, small, or devoid of abstraction. And I’m not a joiner; I rebel against groups with “our beliefs”, especially when members must keep criticisms private, so as not to give ammunition to “them.”  I love to argue one on one, and common beliefs are not important for friendship — instead I value honesty and passion.

In ‘77 I began college (UCI) in engineering, but switched to physics to really understand the equations.  Two years in, when physics repeated the same concepts with more math,  I studied physics on my own, skipping the homework but acing the exams.  To dig deeper, I did philosophy of science grad school (U Chicago), switched back to physics, and was then seduced to Silicon Valley.

By day I did artificial intelligence (Lockheed, NASA), and by night I studied on my own (Stanford) and hung with Xanadu’s libertarian web pioneers and futurists.  I had a hobby of institution design; my best idea was idea futures, now know as prediction markets. Feeling stuck without contacts and credentials, I went for a Ph.D. in social science (Caltech).

The physicist in me respected only econ experiments at first, but I was soon persuaded econ theory was full of insight, and did a theory thesis, and a bit of futurism on the side.  I landed a health policy postdoc, where I was shocked to learn of medicine’s impotency.  I finally landed a tenure-track job (GMU), and also found the wide-ranging intellectual conversations I’d lacked since Xanadu.

My Policy Analysis Market project hit the press shit fan in ‘03, burying me in media attention for a while, and helping to kickstart the prediction market industry, which continues to grow and for which I continue to consult.  The press flap also tipped me over the tenure edge in ‘05; my colleagues liked my being denounced by Senators. :)   Tenure allowed me to maintain my diverse research agenda, and to start blogging at Overcoming Bias in November ‘06, about the same time I became a research associate at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

My more professional bio is here.

Robin Hanson is an associate professor of economics at George Mason University, and a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University. After receiving his Ph.D. in social science from the California Institute of Technology in 1997, Robin was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation health policy scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1984, Robin received a masters in physics and a masters in the philosophy of science from the University of Chicago, and afterward spent nine years researching artificial intelligence, Bayesian statistics, and hypertext publishing at Lockheed, NASA, and independently.

Robin has over 70 publications, including articles in Applied Optics, Business Week, CATO Journal, Communications of the ACM, Economics Letters, Econometrica, Economics of Governance, Extropy, Forbes, Foundations of Physics, IEEE Intelligent Systems, Information Systems Frontiers, Innovations, International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Journal of Evolution and Technology, Journal of Law Economics and Policy, Journal of Political Philosophy, Journal of Prediction Markets, Journal of Public Economics, Medical Hypotheses, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Public Choice, Social Epistemology, Social Philosophy and Policy, Theory and Decision, and Wired.

Robin has pioneered prediction markets, also known as information markets or idea futures, since 1988. He was the first to write in detail about people creating and subsidizing markets in order to gain better estimates on those topics. Robin was a principal architect of the first internal corporate markets, at Xanadu in 1990, of the first web markets, the Foresight Exchange since 1994, and of DARPA’s Policy Analysis Market, from 2001 to 2003. Robin has developed new technologies for conditional, combinatorial, and intermediated trading, and has studied insider trading, manipulation, and other foul play. Robin has written and spoken widely on the application of idea futures to business and policy, being mentioned in over one hundred press articles on the subject, and advising many ventures, including Consensus Point, GuessNow, Newsfutures, Particle Financial, Prophet Street, Trilogy Advisors, XPree, YooNew, and undisclosable defense research projects.

Robin has diverse research interests, with papers on spatial product competition, health incentive contracts, group insurance, product bans, evolutionary psychology and bioethics of health care, voter information incentives, incentives to fake expertize, Bayesian classification, agreeing to disagree, self-deception in disagreement, probability elicitation, wiretaps, image reconstruction, the history of science prizes, reversible computation, the origin of life, the survival of humanity, very long term economic growth, growth given machine intelligence, and interstellar colonization.

Why Google don’t want to hire research scientist David Pennock

A recruiter who left Google last year says that the company [= Google] had maintained a “do not touch” list of companies including Genentech and Yahoo, whose employees were not to be wooed to the Internet search giant.

That revelation could be significant in light of this week’s disclosure that the U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether Google, Yahoo, Apple, Genentech and other tech companies conspired to keep others from stealing their top talent. […]


Statistician and econometrician Nate Silver is going to write up a book on… SUSPENSE, SUSPENSE… not on statistics, not on econometrics… on prediction markets.

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Via the unjustly suspected mister Cowgill, the LAT:

[Nate] Silver is now at a crossroads, trying to decide what to do with his newfound fame. He’s about to leave Chicago, where he now lives, and move to New York, and he’ll spend the next few months working on a book on prediction markets.

I bet that book will be more impartial that the writings of our economic canaries who are in bed with the exchanges and the vendors.


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Previously: Part One – Part Two

Ezra Klein:


There&#8217-s some confusion over a celebrity thinker like Cass Sunstein being appointed to head an office as obscure and bureaucratic as the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. But OIRA is important! It&#8217-s just also boring.

OIRA was birthed in the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act as part of the effort to streamline the federal government&#8217-s regulatory processes. If Carter had won reelection, the department probably wouldn&#8217-t matter. But he didn&#8217-t. Tucked deep within the Office of Management and Budget, OIRA received relatively little notice until David Stockman, Reagan&#8217-s young turk of a budget director, realized that, properly applied, OIRA could be used to shut down the government&#8217-s regulatory functions by tying new regulations up in endless rounds of analysis and bureaucratic justification.

The key event here, and this gets a bit dull, was Executive Order 12291. Books have been written about this order. Academics still study it. It profoundly changed the nation&#8217-s regulatory machinery. 12291 required that cost-benefit analysis be conducted for “promulgating new regulations, reviewing existing regulations and developing legislative proposals concerning regulations” This meant the OMB was now in charge of reviewing all bureaucratic proposals, thus subjecting the entire federal bureaucracy to tight, centralized, executive control. Where individual regulations used to pass through the relevant agency, they were now subject to a central review by a presidential appointee. It was the agency the president used to fight his own government. OIRA began &#8220-reviewing&#8221- 2,000 to 3,000 regulations a year. This made the OMB so powerful that a non-profit watchdog, OMB Watch, sprang into existence to publicize its role.

Clinton partially repealed 12291 with Executive Order 12866. I&#8217-m not going to explain it because, frankly, you all will stop visiting this blog if I do, but suffice to say it pulled many of Reagan&#8217-s changes back. Regulatory review dropped to about 500 a year. Then came George W. Bush, who appointed the noxious John Graham to OIRA. Graham was famous for his cost-benefit risk analysis techniques, which had spurred him to declare regulations against PCBs, saccharine, and nuclear power evidence of society’s “flustered hypochondria.” In his first year at OIRA, he halted more regulations than the Clinton administration stopped in eight. His finest moment came nine days after 9/11, when he released an extraordinary memo advising government agencies that the administration was no longer evaluating regulations based on health, safety, and other public good metrics. From here on out, they’d also be judged on how they affected business. Nine days after 9/11. Oh, and Bush tried to again strengthen OIRA&#8217-s ability to block regulation, this time with Executive order 13422, which would&#8217-ve required impossibly detailed reports on every regulation. Congress found it objectionable enough that they passed stopping OMB from spending any money implementing 13422, thus defanging it.

The point of all this is that OIRA is quiet, but important. It&#8217-s the chokepoint of the entire federal regulatory apparatus. If used wisely, it facilitates the flow, provides welcome analysis and judgment, and aids in implementation. If used as an anti-government weapon, it can do a lot of damage. Sunstein can do real good there. But why would he want it? He&#8217-s shown a taste for celebrity, and OIRA very much does not provide that.

It&#8217-s worth remembering that Sunstein has recently achieved great fame for Nudge, a book which basically argues that we need to apply the insights of behavioral economics to the construction of regulation. And Director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is the ultimate staging ground for those ideas. Reagan understood that OIRA was the central clearinghouse where you could affect the whole of the regulatory state all at once. He wanted to virtually shut it down. Sunstein wants to &#8220-nudge&#8221- it.