Online talks

by Henry Farrell on April 20, 2024

I’ve been doing a bunch of talks and events online, mostly not CT related, but a couple that might be interesting to readers. One that certainly is is this conversation with Francis Spufford, which is a coda to Red Plenty.

Some of my bits of the conversation build on this Long Now talk from a few months ago.

I’ll also be talking in a couple of weeks at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center, riffing on Alison Gopnik’s notion of Large Language Models as “cultural technologies.” I was deeply unhappy with HKS’s speech policy some years back, but they appear to have gotten substantially better even as other places are getting worse.

Finally, Abe Newman and I will be doing a conversation with Paul Krugman at CUNY’s Graduate Center a month from now. This will be open to the public (free tickets) as well as being videoed for broadcast. If you want to come, would love to see you! (I’m thinking about having an open coffee somewhere nearby before if people would like to say hi).



Mark Johnson 04.21.24 at 12:04 am

Thanks for posting the very interesting Red Plenty interview.


CarlD 04.21.24 at 3:50 pm

Hmm. Is hip hop innovative? Were the Beatles? LLMs are mashup and remix machines, with a repertoire of basically everything. It’s possible some subset of human creativity is something other / more than that, but these are questions the technology refreshes and unsettles.

My artist friends tell me their creativity is basically about making rules and then following them out. Rules and iterations are something else the LLMs are good at.

Latour et al might suggest we see these as actor networks.

Finally, Platonists and deontologists have some notorious difficulties connecting to the tangible details of the world. They might even say those are just distractions and corruptions.


Seekonk 04.22.24 at 6:23 pm

Thank you very much for sharing your talks. I’m interested in the viability of “socialist” economic policies, and I really appreciated Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty.

In that vein, I’m reading The New China Playbook: Beyond Socialism and Capitalism (2023) by Keyu Jin. The author was born in Beijing in 1982 and educated in the US. Her father Jin Liqun was sent to do agricultural work during the Cultural Revolution and is now a banker in China. She’s been associated with the World Bank, the IMF, the FRBNY, and is an economics prof at LSE.

Ms. Jin avoids coming across as an uncritical shill, but she is a proponent of the current arrangement in China where the CCP controls the government, which in turn maintains significant authority over the “commanding heights” of the economy. She describes the Mao period as utopian and characterized by scarcity and ideological purity. She attributes China’s rapid standard-of-living improvement to the 1978 move to private enterprise under Deng Xiaoping. She sees China’s success as a product of its culture of frugality, industriousness, and respect for education which she ascribes to its Confucian tradition. She also cites the acceptance of strong central government, and the gradual transition to a market economy, unlike the “shock therapy” experienced by the former Soviet bloc.

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