The Long Game 19: Bio-Tracking, Failure, Thinking Like an Athlete, Movement Marketing, Prediction Markets

🪐 Life on Venus, The Social Dilemma, Scientific Progress, Toucan, Digital Banking now Halal, Augur, and Much More!

Happy Thursday!

Greetings from Paris 🇫🇷

If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.

In this episode:

  • Bio-tracking

  • The perception of failure

  • Training your thinking like an athlete

  • Prediction markets


🥑 Health

🧬 A Longitudinal Big Data Approach for Precision Health

Recently, my friend Jason Jin, co-founder of Bioloop Sleep, shared with me this fantastic paper: A longitudinal big data approach for precision health.

Here's a part of the abstract:

Precision health relies on the ability to assess disease risk at an individual level, detect early preclinical conditions and initiate preventive strategies. Recent technological advances in omics and wearable monitoring enable deep molecular and physiological profiling and may provide important tools for precision health.

It's important because it's the future of health. With enough data, we'll get a whole new understanding of health, and actionable discoveries will follow.

The author of the paper, Michael Snyder, is one of the most tracked humans on the planet:

Michael Snyder might be the most bio-tracked man in the world. He’s tested 14 of his “-omes,” such as the standard genome and microbiome as well as the less-well-known metabolome, transcriptome, proteome, immunome, and exposome. At any given time, he has eight devices on or around his body tracking his heart rate, blood oxygen, step count, blood glucose, radiation exposure, and even the surrounding air quality.

It may be a lot for the average person, but this is how we're going to improve preventive care, through health optimization:

“We are very focused on treating people when they’re sick,” he says. “It’s very reactive. We should obviously be focused on keeping people healthy.”

Why all this data, you might ask. We need data to understand what's happening:

“The goal is to really understand what does it mean to be healthy, what does a healthy profile look like, how does it change over time, and what happens when people get sick at the earliest times.”


🌱 Wellness

📉 The Perception of Failure

I watched this beautiful speech of J.K Rowling at Harvard on failure (transcript here). What strikes me is that your definition of failure is your decision, and it will very likely impact your future achievements and your life satisfaction.

My biggest failures were also the biggest blessings in disguise.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.


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🧠 Better Thinking

🥊 Training your Thinking Like an Athlete

We see athletes train their craft all day long, but the same concept doesn't seem to be applied at the same level outside of sports, for knowledge workers. It's a big mistake because we can't expect to improve our thinking without deliberate practice.

One question that I love from Tyler Cowen is:

“What is it you do to train that is comparable to a pianist practicing scales?”  If you don’t know the answer to that one, maybe you are doing something wrong or not doing enough. Or maybe you are (optimally?) not very ambitious?

On top of learning new skills, reading, and writing, finding an intellectual sparring partner can help your thinking and your ideas reach the next level.

If you're interested in the same topics as me (the stuff I usually share here), and you like this idea of intellectual sparring partner, let me know by responding to this, and let's make it happen!


⚡️ Startup Stuff

🚀 Your Startup is a Movement, by David Sacks

Startup marketing is going through a massive change. We've talked about Cults, hype, and exclusivity within the startup world (The Long Game 14 & The Long Game 15). In this article, David Sacks, co-founder of Paypal, Yammer, and Craft Ventures, lays out the main principles of the "Movement Marketing" playbook.

First, what is "Movement Marketing"?

The best founders talk eloquently about their mission and the change they want to make in the world. They speak about something larger than dollars and cents. They articulate a vision of the future that attracts adherents. They create a movement.

Then, David covers 13 points to create the perfect movement marketing for your startup.

Here are some points that I found very important:

  • Define a larger cause: "A sense of mission is important for both internal morale and external marketing."

  • Attack the status quo: "Your startup has an opponent, but it's not your competitors; it's some version of the status quo."

  • Pick noble fights: "Great political movements engage in noble fights, even when they sometimes have to pick them. Likewise, startups should look for opportunities to draw sharp contrasts with a legacy incumbent."


📚 What I Read

Tim Ferriss on Cancel Culture

Always ahead of the curve, Tim Ferriss left the Silicon Valley two years ago, in part because of the cancel culture that was growing there. I'm wondering now whether or not it will spread to Europe.

🕌 Digital Banking, Now Halal

Was saw last week that Gods are getting in the VR set in India with VR devotee. Here, Indonesian fintech founders have an additional hurdle: build an app that is compliant with Islamic religious law or Sharia.

Most Islamic fintech companies have an appointed head of Sharia, a taskmaster who manages the compliance process.

We could imagine that technology would make people less religious, but we see the opposite happening in Asia.

🃏 Prediction markets & Life Capital

I'm generally very interested in the ways we can invent to align the incentives of the actors at play in essential issues of society. I loved this article by Erik Torenberg on creating a system to help people invest in other people through Income Share Agreements (ISAs). It's very important and promising because it could help people without money but with a lot of potential to achieve what they're capable of.

How can we create financial products to incentivize service provides (i.e. teachers, doctors, etc.) where they are indirectly having massive impacts to income from future generations?

We've seen how Lambda School is successfully doing precisely that for Computer Science degrees (free CS education that you pay once you get a job). It could be applied to many other fields. For example, the Media Fund helps creators earn a share of what their followers build after being inspired by the creator's content.

This deep-dive into Life Capital and ISAs led me to prediction markets (also covered in the podcast below). Prediction markets are speculative markets created to make predictions. Assets are created whose final cash value is tied to a particular event or parameter.

I explored the work of Robin Hanson on this topic. He explains why prediction markets are fundamental in society and how they could be used:

Our policy-makers and media rely too much on the "expert" advice of a self-interested insider's club of pundits and big-shot academics. These pundits are rewarded too much for telling good stories, and for supporting each other, rather than for being "right". Instead, let us create betting markets on most controversial questions, and treat the current market odds as our best expert consensus. The real experts (maybe you), would then be rewarded for their contributions, while clueless pundits would learn to stay away.

In a sense, prediction markets are collective intelligence, and because people must have skin in the game (they bet on what they believe is correct), it gives the best predictions on an issue.

It's interesting to see Facebook moving in this direction with its new product, Forecast.

People can say all sorts of stuff if they're not held accountable for it. If you're forced to put a monetary value on your opinion on how certain you are, if you have to bet on it, all of a sudden, it forces you to think and ask yourself: "Am I really this sure?"

If you have prejudices about bets because of how they're represented in today's society, remember that insurances and the stock market are bets.


🍭 Brain Food

🔭 Life on Venus

As of September 13th, 2020, there was compelling and rather robust evidence of signs of life in the clouds of Venus suggested by the observations of Scientists at MIT, Cardiff University, and elsewhere. After Carl Sagan predicted it in 1967, we're finally witnessing it.

At first, it could seem like good news. Still, if you read Nick Bostrom's work on extraterrestrial life (In the Great Silence There's Great Hope, or Where Are They? Why I hope that the search for extraterrestrial life finds nothing), you'll understand that if we find extinct signs of life on other planets, it would be ominous signs:

But I hope that our Mars probes will discover nothing.  It would be good news if we find Mars to be completely sterile. Dead rocks and lifeless sands would lift my spirit.

Conversely, if we discovered traces of some simple extinct life form—some bacteria, some algae—it would be bad news.  If we found fossils of something more advanced, perhaps something looking like the remnants of a trilobite or even the skeleton of a small mammal, it would be very bad news. The more complex the life we found, the more depressing the news of its existence would be. Scientifically interesting, certainly, but a bad omen for the future of the human race.

The reason is that if we discover extinct signs of life, it would mean that the Great Filter is ahead of us. Our chances to become a post-human civilization is almost zero (in other words, the future of our civilization will not be bright).

The thesis of Nick Bostrom isn't, however, accepted by all scientists. For example, Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler & Toby Ord are "dissolving" the Fermi Paradox in this paper, and I hope they're right!

One more time!


🎥 What I'm Watching

😥 The Social Dilemma

I've covered a little bit here the damaging effects of technology on mental health. In The Long Game 15, I wrote:

I firmly believe that in 10 years, we will look back at social media’s infinite feeds as being as detrimental for our health as sugar. Now, we’re still in the early phase, just like when doctors were prescribing sugar for energy. With the recent update of Instagram that now suggests posts in your own feed to keep you glued to your phone, it’s obvious that our mental health is the latest concern of some big tech companies.

The Social Dilemma is a Netflix documentary that does a great job of describing how social media is using behavioral design in a way that is harmful to the individual and society at large.

The structural problem here is that the incentives are fundamentally misaligned. The tech giants are advertising companies; they want your time, that's how they make money, that's what they're optimizing for. On top of that, they also want you to click on the adds, so they're using behavioral tools to influence your decisions.

The problem of the documentary is that it gives little actionable things we can do to fix the problem. The Center for Humane Technology is calling for regulations of big tech and for time- and attention-management features, but in the meantime, what can we do to get some attention back?

Some tools exist on that front (Forest, Motion, Opal, and more), but we're only at the beginning of the long journey to get our attention back.

The documentary made me think of this quote from Sam Harriss:

With social media, we’ve all been enrolled in a psychological experiment for which no one gave consent, and it’s not at all clear how it will turn out. And it’s still not clear how it will turn out, but it’s not looking good.

It's time for tech to go after innovations that improve life on this planet.


🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week

🏇 The State of Prediction Markets and Crypto with Joey Krug — Venture Stories

Joey Krug is the founder of Augur, a decentralized no-limit betting platform. If you're familiar with prediction markets, you don't want to miss this episode.

In the words of Balaji Srinivasan:

Blockchain-based prediction markets may be the one force strong enough to counterbalance the spread of incorrect information on social media. They give people a financial incentive to seek the truth and then protect them with the twin shields of pseudonymity and decentralization.

In other words, prediction markets are skin in the game as a service.

After I've proposed the idea of prediction markets but for health metrics on Twitter, Robert Miller, author of a great newsletter about blockchain in healthcare, responded with some interesting perspectives about prediction markets for research purposes in this thread 🧵.

🚂 Nicholas Bloom on Management, Productivity, and Scientific Progress — Conversations with Tyler

We have already covered the idea of progress in The Long Game 5, how important it is, and how it might be slowing down over the last decades.

In this conversation, Nicholas Bloom, author of the paper Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?, and Tyler Cowen discuss which areas of science are making progress, why firms thrive in China, why he's not worried about the effects of remote work on American productivity, and more.

I liked how Nicholas gets his sources of inspiration:

Whenever I meet people, I go to their website, look them up for half an hour, 20 minutes beforehand, and really try and learn about what they work on. It takes a lot of time, but I find it really valuable. That’s the great source of ideas. I listen to a lot of podcasts because I try and go out for a walk or a run for about an hour every day. I mostly listen to podcasts. For me, that’s been helpful for coming up with new research ideas.


🔧 The tool of the Week

🦆 Toucan — Learn a Language while you Browse

If you're like me and you speak another language, but you don't practice it enough (🇪🇸), you'll love Toucan. It's a Chrome extension that helps you learn — or maintain — a language while browsing the web. What I like about it is that it's happening while you're reading things you're already motivated to consume.


🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

— Steve Jobs


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👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

I will see you next week. As always, if you're finding this newsletter interesting, give me your feedback; you can respond to this email or tweet at me.

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Have a great day,

Mehdi

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