4 min read

The problem of aging

How big of an issue is an aging population; how woke is ChatGPT; and should adults nap?
The problem of aging
Photo by Philippe Leone / Unsplash

1—The problem of aging

The world's populating is getting older:

"If countries are smart, they'll replenish their young populations with immigration. But even domestic political reluctance can be overcome, immigration is only a temporary stopgap; fertility is already fairly low everywhere except Africa, where it's falling at an accelerating pace. In 1990 the average African woman was expected to have 6 children in her lifetime; today that’s down to 4, and the drop is accelerating.

In other words, it's not just China. Every single country on Earth is either having to deal with population aging, or soon will have to deal with it."

But how big of a problem is it, really? That's the question recently posed by Noah Smith, who went through various viewpoints starting with the 'no big deal' argument:

"There's a school of thought that says aging is no biggie — population decline may reduce total GDP, but per capita GDP could stay the same, since the denominator will be shrinking as well. Yes, there will be more retirees, but we'll just replace their labour with robots. And of course, having fewer human beings allows us to grow living standards more without destroying the natural world and putting strains on scarce resources."

While it's true that worsening demographics "aren't the death knell for a civilization", there's a lot of evidence "that they exert a persistent drag on a country's economic prospects", through:

  1. A higher dependency ratio, "when the number of old people increases and the number of workers shrinks, the size of the burden each worker carries on their shoulders goes up".
  2. "Having companies dominated by elderly managers and executives could decrease industry's ability to respond to new market trends and technologies — instead they might simply do things the way they used to, rule their comfy little empires, and let new opportunities drift by."
  3. Macroeconomic effects – "what company wants to invest in a country that's going to have fewer and fewer customers each year?"

You can read Smith's full essay here (~8 minute read), which looks at the literature and concludes that "The problem of aging isn't dire, but it is relentless, and it remains unsolved."

2—How woke is ChatGPT?

David Rozado put our new AI assistant to the test:

"On December 6th I published a preliminary analysis showing a left-leaning political bias embedded in the first release of ChatGPT from November 30.

After the December 15th update of ChatGPT, I replicated my analysis and it appeared as if the political bias had been partially mitigated and the system often strived to provide a multitude of viewpoints for questions with political connotations.

After the January 9th update of ChatGPT, I replicated and extended my original analysis by administering 15 political orientation tests to ChatGPT. The moderation of political bias is no longer apparent. 14 out of 15 different political orientation tests diagnose ChatGPT answers to their questions as exhibiting a clear preference to provide left-leaning viewpoints."

What's interesting is that ChatGPT's political leanings have changed over time, likely due to human intervention. Is that a margin on which machine learning tools will compete (social media is somewhat fragmented on that margin)? Or will the most efficient, politically neutral version become dominant, as was the case with search engines?

You can read Rozado's full post with all of his results here (~3 minute read).

3—Epic growth

4—Should you nap?

At least 30% of adults take regular naps. But should we? Emily Oster recently dug into the napping research:

"There is substantial evidence that even short naps improve attention and cognitive performance... Notably, napping seems beneficial both for people who sleep enough and those who do not. So you might benefit from napping even if you are not sleep-deprived."

But the duration of the nap matters. A longer nap is more effective, but at the cost of a short-term decline in cognitive function:

After going through various studies, Oster concluded that if you're going to nap, do it in the mid-afternoon, keep it short – 15 minutes – and drink a coffee about 30 minutes before the nap (so you're ready to go when you wake up). But be aware that depending on what you do for work, napping does reduce overall productivity – it's very hard to make up for the lost time!

You can read Oster's full analysis here (~5 minute read).

5—Further reading...

👷‍♀️ "The [US] 2022 unionization rate (10.1 percent) is the lowest on record. In 1983, the first year where comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent."

🤖 In response to schools reporting rising "AI plagiarism", Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI (which develops ChatGPT), said "Generative text is something we all need to adapt to. We adapted to calculators and changed what we tested for in math class, I imagine. This is a more extreme version of that, no doubt, but also the benefits of it are more extreme, as well."

😬 Kuroda's legacy: "If Japanese bond yields were to rise by just 0.25 percentage points, the [Bank of Japan's] total holdings as of January 10th would slump in value by around ¥7.5trn, or 1.4% of GDP."