Monday, October 30, 2023

AI Corner: An Economist Writes a Book You Can Talk to in AI

Tyler Cowen is a creative and prolific economist at George Mason University.  He's written a new book, on the idea, "Greatest Economist of All Time" or GOAT.   (He decides there are several great ones, and no single winner).   

Find a blog about the book here.  And you can load it on a Kindle, but wait, there's more.  He's created a website that has "read" the book, and you can ask any range of complex questions about the book, "to the book," so to speak.  Website here:

I played with this for a while and found it really amazing.  

In healthcare, we worry about language models vaccuming up a lot of crap and nonsense from the internet and regurgitating it.   Here, for the GOAT book, the AI obviously has "learning English" as a large language model, but interrogates one book as a  "walled garden."   Similarly, AI could have one massive internal medicine text book (or several of them) as it's "walled garden" before long. Wolters Kluwer seems to be working on something of that type for its encyclopedic subscription website UpTodate.


Hi! Let’s see how AI can reinvent the book-reading experience. What would you like to know?

What are the two main similarities the author sees between Hayek and Adam Smith?

Based on the text provided, Tyler Cowen draws two key similarities between Hayek and Adam Smith.

Firstly, he notes that both economists inspire in their readers a sense of marvel and curiosity. This suggests they both possess a unique ability to provoke deep thinking and contemplation about the complexities of decentralised systems, such as economies or societies.

Secondly, both Hayek and Smith encourage readers not to assume every politician is of the same quality. They inspire readers to critically evaluate political constitutions, particularly in terms of how they attract and repel different individuals in their quest for public office.

In essence, both Hayek and Smith's works open readers’ eyes to the underlying mechanisms of societal structures, providing a fresh perspective on the conventional understanding of economics and governance. Even though the book doesn't elaborate more on the specific comparisons, we can infer these similarities based on the author's admiration for both economists.

What does the author think was the greatest weakness in the work of Keynes?

Tyler lends significant consideration to Keynes' shortcomings in the third chapter of the book. He asserts that one of the significant weaknesses in the work of Keynes lies in his theoretical economics - Keynes' aptitude as a microeconomist was notably weak, even when likened with leading economists of his time like Jacob Viner.

Further, the author also criticizes Keynes for not valuing intellectual rigor over political positioning. He believes that Keynes was not completely accurate and impartial in his readings and interpretations of his intellectual adversaries' approach; instead, he put his political persuasion ahead of scrupulous accuracy in reasoning.

Lastly, Tyler thinks Keynes had a limitation in his perspective - often viewing it from the British elite perspective, limiting his understanding of other world views. He articulates this when he discusses Keynes's attacks on greed, suggesting they emerged more from his exclusive Cantabridgean perspective and his upper-class lifestyle rather than a broader understanding of economic realities and challenges.
Remember, Tyler also acknowledges his personal bias, having been taught early on that Keynes' General Theory was flawed, possibly reflecting in his critique. But these are some of the key issues he sees with Keynes' work, according to 'GOAT'.

How did writing this survey work change Cowen's viewpoint of the great economists?

Tyler doesn't specifically articulate how writing this book has changed his viewpoint on the great economists. But we can infer from the text that the exercise of diving deeper into their lives and works likely helped him better appreciate their unique contributions and understand their respective philosophies.

It's like making a pot of stew, where each economist is a different ingredient, and as they simmer together, Tyler gets a more nuanced understanding of the flavor each one brings to the overall taste of economic thought. This exercise likely expanded his view, helping him see overlaps, contrasts, and conversations between economists that he might have missed on a less thorough pass.

On a lighter note, he also probably clocked a few more hours in the 'economist fan club' meeting room while working on the book!

Cowen notes he plans an audiobook auto-narrated in his own voice style.