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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 27, 2021
In The Future of the Future
During the conversation between Prof. Goodman and Rayo, they honed in on the problems of public perceptions of prediction and, relatedly, prediction accuracy and trust. Prof. Rayo made a fascinating point about trusting predictions, arguing that people should often trust a prediction even if they are fairly certain that the prediction is wrong. More specifically, Rayo contends that people should trust predictions when they are fairly certain that the prediction is more reliable than the other methods available. This raises an important point—how do we get people to trust new, better predictive methods, especially when they have uncertainty. People are naturally biased towards the status quo—this is a key tenet of behavioral science. Thus, people are likely to irrationally distrust new predictive methods.
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 27, 2021
In The Future of the Future
I found Prof. Goodman and Rayo's discussion on the philosophy of prediction incredibly fascinating. In particular, the final section on determinism and free will piqued my interest in the intersection between science and the philosophy of free will. Prof. Goodman raised the idea that—one day—we might understand the brain at the level we understand astrophysics: that we might be able to predict human behavior with near absolute certainty, down to the next word we say. If I could add a question to this specific conversation, I would ask if pure deterministic understandings are even possible due to the inherent randomness of the physical world? In particular, I would ask about quantum indeterminacy and its implications for determinism.
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 22, 2021
In Health
I found the discussion between Prof. Goodman, Susan Murphy, and Brendan Meade extremely engaging. In particular, Susan Murphy's explanation of her mobile health studies in Chicago piqued my interest. Murphy detailed the incredible specificity with which they examine personal health data—down to an individual's craving levels when in contact with different personal relations. This type of data—on how the brain reacts to specific inputs, stimuli, and situations—is also commonly found in behavioral science. Murphy also outlined how her studies test recommendations to individuals, like recommending mindfulness each day and measuring the effect on stress levels. This, too, runs parallel to behavioral science by altering how people interact with choices to change their behavior. Even the challenges and concerns seem adjacent: Murphy notes that there are often privacy concerns involved with measuring and employing this hyper-personal data. Similarly, critics of "nudges" in behavioral science often argue they violate key rights to autonomy and privacy. It is fascinating to see how these two fields intertwine.
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 22, 2021
In Earth
I found Professor Goodman's discussion with Brendan Meade and Susan Murphy incredibly compelling. In particular, I was fascinated by Meade's account of his team's "semi" prediction of the 2011 Sendai earthquake in Japan. As he explained, very few of earth scientists expected the earthquake to occur simply because of historical data. However, his modeling and data showed a massive strain building up the ideal conditions for a large earthquake. Despite publishing a paper before the earthquake detailing the risk, it appears that this prediction did not translate to increased concern or preparation in the Sendai area. I would love to ask Brendan Meade how he thinks we can increase the power of prediction through effective public communication and translation to public policy.
Meade — Prediction and Communication? content media
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 13, 2021
In Space
If I were to add a question to Prof. Goodman's discussion with Jill Tarter, I would focus on their conversation about the hypothetical human response to first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. In particular, I would ask whether first contact would unite or divide humanity? There seems to be some evidence for both sides of the argument. On one hand, if the extraterrestrial civilization is seen as a threat, humanity might come together out of fear and self-defense. On the other hand, the threat of an extraterrestrial civilization might widen fault-lines in human society—like national or class differences—and lead to significant division.
Tarter — Unity or Division? content media
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 13, 2021
In Space
I was deeply compelled by Prof. Goodman's discussion with Jill Tarter. In particular, I thought their conversation about the role of science fiction in astrophysics—namely, that science fiction can and has inspired technical innovations in the real world. From this point, I make the immediate connection to unknown unknowns. Often times, significant technological advances come from unknown unknowns—concepts we couldn't even conceive of let alone understand. This raises a dilemma for scientific research: how do we capitalize on the value of discoveries from unknown unknowns? Enter science fiction, or, more generally, creativity and imagination. Science fiction writers, even when they couch their stories in scientific realism, are freed from the constraints of the known. They can push the boundaries in unpredictable ways; in fact, in an appeal to interest and intrigue, they are incentivized to. There is a place for science fiction in science—perhaps a bigger one than we realize.
Tarter — Science Fiction and Imagination content media
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 06, 2021
In Thoughts from Learners
I am personally fascinated by behavioral economics and the topic of nudges in particular. Nudges are when an outside actor changes how an individual interacts with a choice by playing on their subconscious psychological biases. However, as Prof. Goodman and Laibson discussed, we do not have a perfect deterministic model of the brain and human psychology. I would have loved to ask Prof. Laibson whether AI can help behavioral economists develop a more comprehensive understanding of psychological biases by picking out patterns in the data and exposing new subconscious, systematic human behaviors. Is the story complicated further by our inability to discern explanations from AI? How close could we get to a deterministic model of the human brain? https://www.labxchange.org/library/pathway/lx-pathway:b5121779-9f49-49db-93d9-80d5d67dadb3/items/lx-pb:b5121779-9f49-49db-93d9-80d5d67dadb3:lx_simulation:f10b9110?source=%2Flibrary%2Fclusters%2Flx-cluster%3AModernPrediction
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 06, 2021
In Thoughts from Learners
I found Professor Goodman's conversation with David Laibson particularly interesting because behavioral economics and aspiring to "deterministic" models of human behavior are fascinating to me. However, their discussion of the "psychology" stood out to me. As PredictionX notes frequently, AI has removed multiple steps from the historical "Padua rainbow." With AI, we can move directly from data to predictions, bypassing the rule, theory, and explanation steps. This may allow us to solve increasingly complex problems, but it also could have negative consequences. When we set AI lose on a problem, we don't always understand it's thought process. As Laibson points out, we may miss important flaws in how the AI reaches a conclusion, like when facial recognition AI has racial biases. As we move forward with implementing AI into more and more aspects of our lives, it may be crucial to invest in understanding the internal processes of AI.
David Laibson — The "Psychology" of AI content media
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 01, 2021
In Health
Throughout Professor Goodman's interview with George Church, they discussed how individuals might interact with information about their own genetic data. While Church discussed the psychology and ethics of informing people of their genetic data, I would have liked to ask him questions about the delivery method of genetic data. Genetic testing kits are increasingly accessible and can tell you anything from your ancestry to your susceptibility to certain diseases. However, the data are not always easy to interpret and their conclusions may be uncertain in ways that are not immediately obvious to average consumers. I would ask Church what ways he thinks we ought to regulate the flow of genetic data from commercial testing kits? Should we use genetic counselors?
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 01, 2021
In Health
I found Professor Goodman's interview with George Church on Personal Genomics to be among the most compelling videos in the module. In particular, I thought Church raised important, eye-opening concerns about CRISPR and Uncertainty. In the interview, he notes that CRISPR (and related technologies) are unique in that people have to decide whether or not they want to participate. As such, potential participants must weigh the enormous capability of CRISPR with the uncertainties. This discussion led me to ponder how different types of people might interpret these considerations differently. Economists often divide people into categories based on their level of risk tolerance, such as risk-seeking or risk-averse. When confronted by CRISPR, risk-seeking individuals might be more inclined to try it, while risk-averse individuals might be more reticent. Thus, uncertainty means different things to different people. And because people's risk tolerance is not simply random, those differences could have significant implications for technologies like CRISPR. For example, recent research has shown that white Americans are systematically more risk-seeking than black Americans. If CRISPR has massive benefits, will those benefits be spread in a racially unequal manner? These are key considerations in thinking about public communication surrounding CRISPR and the future of genomics in general.
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Mar 30, 2021
In Earth
The interview with Daniel Kammen was comprehensive and fascinating, but I would have asked follow up questions on his point about "silver bullet" solutions to climate change. Kammen says that even important breakthroughs in climate technology have little to no effect in the long run. This may make sense up to this point, but could future breakthroughs disrupt this trend? For example, could an historic leap in battery technology enable significant increases in energy efficiency? Or could a revolution in carbon capture technology allow us to go carbon-negative in the near future? Part of the problem is that we are limited in our prediction of future innovation by the framework of current technology. While human history has seen slow and steady progressions, many of the most important moments have been revolutionary breakthroughs. The digital age, which could not have been predicted even decades before it, has completely altered the fabric of society. Could such "black swan" innovations happen in climate science?
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Mar 30, 2021
In Earth
Of the three talks we watched, I found Daniel Kammen's talk, "The Future of Energy and Earth," the most compelling. In particular, I found two related points most interesting. First, I found the discussion of how the study of climate change has become dominated by the STEM fields, like physicists, chemists, and engineers. Understandably, most efforts to study climate change have focused on the hard science—discerning the processes and dynamics of the earth's climate and the potential for green technologies. Kammen points out that, while this focus is an important part of the field, the study of climate change has underemphasized the humanities and social sciences. To address the global crisis of climate change, we need a comprehensive climate strategy that pervades society. As such, an interdisciplinary understanding of climate change is crucial. Relatedly, I found the discussion of the psychology of climate change fascinating. The social sciences are key to understanding how society can and will respond to climate change. In particular, the interview mentioned how the developing field of behavioral economics will contribute significantly to the study of climate change. Specifically, behavioral economics will uncover cognitive biases which can be exploited to "nudge" individuals toward climate-friendly behavior. Such nudges can be incredibly effective and may be a central component of a comprehensive, interdisciplinary climate change response plan.
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Andrew Gordan
Harvard GenEd 2021
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