Kevin Kelly and Stewart Brand on the Long Now  APR 11 2002

I went to see Kevin Kelly and Stewart Brand speak at the Commonwealth Club last night. They talked about their new endeavor, the Long Bets Foundation, which provides a "public arena for enjoyably competitive predictions, of interest to society, with philanthropic money at stake". Accountability and continuity are the keys here, two things largely missing from society these days, especially when you look online.

Overall, I'm a big fan of the Long Now projects that Kelly and Brand are involved with (like the 10,000 Year Clock, the Rosetta Project, and the All Species Foundation). Getting people thinking about these long term projects might help stimulate new thinking and perspectives about some long term projects we're already involved with (raising a family, building cities, living a lifetime, building societies).

There are 17 reader comments

Joshua Kaufman09 11 2002 1:09PM

Reminds me the millenium time capsule craze. Did anyone else realize that there's an International Time Capsule Society?

Bill Seitz38 11 2002 1:38PM

I'm a bit more dubious about the LongNow crowd. I agree there's some inherent benefit about games that encourage a longer time-horizon. And these projects have the potential to uncover some interesting problems and solutions. But both benefits smell a little to indirect to me, like justifying military spending via the technologies that get discovered and refined and later turned to civilian benefit. But I have a linear-causality bias...

The LongBets project bothers me more at an implementation level. Some of the bets/contracts seem badly written to me, and the span of actions allowed (make a new bet; discuss bets) seem overly narrow in some way. I'm not sure what I'd do to improve it (hmm, here's a signal/noise idea: charge for posting, adding money to the pot)...

Absolutely Boggled22 11 2002 2:22PM

Long Bets Foundation? What an unbelievable scam.

Lemme understand this: people give them money, which they invest and keep half the interest all under the pretense that it's going to go to their selected charity in 2075 (or whenever.)

Hell, why don't I start www.donatetoyourfavoritecharityinfiveyears.org. Everyone can give *me* their money that would have gone to Red Cross or Salvation Army or UNICEF or whatever. I'll keep it nice and safe (in my portfolio) and donate it in five years. Honest.

Accountability and continuity? Puhleeeze, it's a scam. Fortunately, it's only scamming people who have a thousand bucks to bet on whether we'll have rocket cars and telepathy machines in 20 years.

jkottke33 11 2002 3:33PM

The LongBets project bothers me more at an implementation level. Some of the bets/contracts seem badly written to me, and the span of actions allowed (make a new bet; discuss bets) seem overly narrow in some way. I'm not sure what I'd do to improve it (hmm, here's a signal/noise idea: charge for posting, adding money to the pot)...

Long Bets is still a fairly new thing...hopefully they get that sort of stuff ironed out as it goes along. And you're right about the language of the bets. The weblogs/NYTimes/Google bet seems particularly sticky.

jkottke17 11 2002 4:17PM

Long Bets Foundation? What an unbelievable scam.

Given the track records of the people behind Long Bets, suggesting that it's a scam seems like a bit of a stretch. Kelly and Brand seem sufficiently trustworthy that they're not trying to bilk people out of their money with such a transparent scam.

The people who are betting know what they are getting into...it's right on the Web site in plain view. They know that half of the interest is going to the Long Bets Foundation (a non-profit, by the way) for operating expenses related to providing a service of this kind (staff, Web site upkeep & expansion, guaranteeing multiple-decade-long bets, bet arbitration, getting the word out about bets, organizing payouts to charities, managing the funds, etc.). And the bettors realize that they are making a defacto donation to Long Bets as well as to their charity of choice because they believe in what they are trying to accomplish with the betting process.

And Ray Kurzweil, Freeman Dyson, Vint Cerf, Danny Hillis, and Nathan Myhrvold have all been duped, and you saw through it? Right.

Accountability and continuity? Puhleeeze, it's a scam.

Yes, accountability. Bill and Joshua took responsibility for their comments here because they left their real names and a link to their Web sites. They can now be held accountable for what they said. I wonder how your comments on this matter would have differed if you had taken responsibility for them by not using an alias. It's hard to take your comments seriously because we don't know who "Absolutely Boggled" is.

James Kelly48 11 2002 5:48PM

Ok, Jason. No alias and I *still* think it's a scam.

I can figure from the bios of the founders it's not maliscious, but I don't see anything on the site beyond some eccentric, high-stakes wagering with LongBets.org as the bookie.

Just because the participants are academics makes it an intellectual exercise? It's a mater of perspective I guess; I find gambling aversive and suspect so I don't see LongBets as an engaging "forum for focussed discussion and debate about prediction."

np16 11 2002 9:16PM

Quite a few academics pretend to care for the common good, but that does not prevent them to stuff their pockets in the meantime.

To me this sounds like nice entertainment. All power to them and to those who give them money.

Joshua Gooden06 12 2002 9:06AM

Researchers, scientists, and everyone else for that matter, have made friendly wagers like this for a long time. Long bets is a good way to take a traditional friendly wager, add money and then donate it to charity, while allowing the public a rare glimpse into some of the most interesting minds of our time. We are also afforded a look into some the less interesting minds, but hey, it's a charity, right?

It's a combination of public service, public debate, and public education that I find fascinating, and given that you're reading a weblog* you should too.

As far as keeping a portions of "the profits", surely you don't begrudge other charities that right? They do have to operate on something.

* say this because most weblogs of any gravity inspire at least a bit of debate, and some even manage to educate.

Joshua Gooden10 12 2002 9:10AM

Oh, and np, there's no logical reason why some one should be discouraged from making money with their intellect as well as benefitting the greater good. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Morgan09 12 200210:09AM

I don't particularly care if the Long Bets Foundation is a scam or not, worse case senerio they both loose their money. Fine that's the risk you take gambling. The object isn't making money for charaties, it's accountability for your declarations.

My issue with the bets rather cheesy loop-hole deals that are making them much less impressive deals.

If the NYTimes starts a blog that gets the hits they still win? It seems like a last minute cop-out by Martin Nisenholtz. If the Times starts a weblog, it will be a much greater vindication of Winer's Argument, then actually winning the bet in 2007.

The Jason Epstein / Vint Cerf bet on in store printing of books seems even worse. I'm sure as the initiator Epstein's point was that when dealing with hard-copies of books, they would be printed on demand, rather that kept in stock. Cerf seems to have taken this bet and turned it into a debate on physical vs. e-books, pulling to rug out from under Epstein's topic.

I'd much rather see the bets entered into with both partisipants understanding the real agenda, and working to come up with lagitimate bets.

jkottke41 12 200212:41PM

I find gambling aversive and suspect

I agree that betting isn't the most virtuous activity, but as betting goes, this is pretty harmless. It's basically a donation to charity with a debate attached to it.

Just because the participants are academics makes it an intellectual exercise? It's a mater of perspective I guess

No, but as you say, it's a matter of perspective. If you choose to treat it as an intellectual exercise (as Long Bets suggests), it becomes one.

Jonah05 12 2002 2:05PM

It's not really the gambling that bothers me, it's more the fact that the site seems to use the guise of spawning interesting dialogue and discussion about topics of "societal or scientific importance" to collect money for a market fund that is "is carefully designed NOT to tank" (quotes from the longbets site). The simple statements they make about being able to avoid market oscillations and being global so that it can ignore local oscillations, to me, draws into question the integrity of the whole project.

As far as keeping a portions of "the profits", surely you don't begrudge other charities that right? They do have to operate on something.


I don't begrudge charities at all, but if your goal is to support charities, then I don't think longbets is really a good choice. You're risking not giving any money to the charity and furthermore, even if you do win your bet you're risking that the Farsight Fund wont be able to make your donation in full or at all.

This site seems to serve as an ego stroking device. It shouldn't whore out charitable giving as a product. I look at donating to charities like I do vegetarianism: you should do it because you want to, not because you want to brag about it.

r vacapinta36 12 2002 3:36PM

I'm a fan of the Long Now project, but I also cant abide by this Long Bet stuff. The idea is interesting but the execution is distasteful.

I was particularly turned off by Esther Dyson's "bet" that Russia would emerge as a technology superpower. Given her significant investments in the region, this struck me as particularly crass and self-promoting.

Scott11 12 2002 7:11PM

I finished reading this book a few weeks ago and have to agree with your assessment. The book does a great job of explaining the project and one can only hope that it will spur thought and discussion on the impact of our numerous short-term ways of doing things. Try running some examples of US government policy (i.e. oil from Alaska's wildlife refuge or how they deal with Palestine and Israel) through the matrix in the book or try putting your own decisions through it -- the outcome will change how you react, what you do, and the outcome will be better for all.

jkottke07 13 2002 3:07AM

I was particularly turned off by Esther Dyson's "bet" that Russia would emerge as a technology superpower. Given her significant investments in the region, this struck me as particularly crass and self-promoting.

Brand and Kelly actually talked about this bet. Their point was that the other party knew full well about Dyson's investments in Russia and took the bet anyway. They were betting that Russia couldn't develop into a tech power, with or without Dyson's aid.

Josh Rothman29 13 2002 3:29AM

Long bets would be interesting . . . if they were about something interesting. Too bad all the bets in the project so far are about nothing interesting whatsoever.

Pilotless planes? Russia as a tech superpower? Who gives a crap? Not 99.9% of the people in the world. How about whether or not mutli-resistant tuberculosis will be eradicated in Russian prisons by 2005 (probably not)? Whether or not the AIDS epidemic in South Africa can be meaningfully stemmed by 2010? Whether or not China's damming of the Yellow River will result in severe environmental catastrophe or whether or not the introduction of U.S. missile defenses will change the nuclear forecast for the worse? Don't we have better things to think about than whether or not we'll get to print books in the bookstore? All this stuff about what neat gadgets we'll have in ten years is, if I can put it this way, so *nineties*.

I understand it's just for fun and I don't mean (well, maybe) to get on the high horse about it; I just can't help feeling as though this is a kind of faux philanthropy and very narrow-minded. The Doomsday Clock is a better idea because it's something real. I don't see how this stimulates discussion about anything more important than the latest issue of Wired. It's just high-stakes boosterism for the tech sector.

Josh Rothman31 13 2002 3:31AM

(I mean, it's still cool, and thank you for drawing it to my attention Jason. I just wish it were cooler).

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

kottke.org

Front page
About + contact
Site archives

Subscribe

Follow kottke.org on Twitter

Follow kottke.org on Tumblr

Like kottke.org on Facebook

Subscribe to the RSS feed

Advertisement

Ads by The Deck

Support kottke.org shop at Amazon

And more at Amazon.com

Looking for work?

More at We Work Remotely

Kottke @ Quarterly

Subscribe to Quarterly and get a real-life mailing from Jason every three months.

 

Enginehosting

Hosting provided EngineHosting