Epsilon Theory is Dr. Ben Hunt’s ongoing examination of the narrative machine driving human behavior, political policy and, ultimately, capital markets—an unconventional worldview best understood through the lenses of history, game theory and philosophy.
Ben’s originally from Alabama but now lives out in the wilds of Fairfield County, Connecticut, on a “farm” of 44 acres. While his pre-electrification, dairy farmer grandfather may’ve laughed at his calling his modest spread a farm, Ben’s learned a few things over the years from the farm and its animals, and they’ve helped him become a better investor. Here are his notes from the field in this regular Epsilon Theory feature.
From our A-Team of seasoned subject matter experts, the Narrative is an evolving stream of perspectives and insights on a broad range of financial subjects and asset classes. Please read, enjoy and share.
To understand the impact of catalytic narrative forces, we have to monitor the vital signs of the capital markets they affect. To analyze the big picture through the lenses of game theory and history, we must also examine the details through lenses like volatility, momentum, income, correlation and inflation. These are the indicators of systemic vitality and stress—the fine details we use to fine-tune our worldview. We hope they help you sharpen your understanding of the investable universe.
Dr. Ben Hunt hosts the Epsilon Theory podcast with co-hosts and special guests from financial services, the financial media *gasp* and beyond. The Epsilon Theory podcast is the quickest way to get all of the unconventional perspective, historical context and narrative analysis you’ve come to expect from Epsilon Theory pumped directly into your head.
We’re growing our family of Epsilon Theory contributors to include a broad range of voices on an evolving range of subject matter. If you listen to the podcast, you’ll recognize some of the names as colleagues, partners and friends of Ben from Salient, any number of past lives, and the growing circle of outspoken truth-seekers in financial services and beyond.
Epsilon Theory author Dr. Ben Hunt is frequently quoted in print, radio and TV appearances.
Salient Partners is the proud parent company of Epsilon Theory. Salient is a diversified asset management firm and leading provider of real asset and alternative investment strategies for institutional investors and investment advisors.
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I’ve recently — perhaps belatedly — developed an interest in blockchain, and particularly in Ethereum. Not so much in trading crypto-currencies, but more in the realm of the type of ‘Smart Token’ protocols being developed by Bancor. As I start to process the implications of smart contracts I’m convinced that we are currently at Day Zero of a massive disruption. To quote Mike Goldin on one dimension of this disruption: “What blockchains give us, fundamentally, is programmable money. When you can program money, you can program incentives. When you can program incentives, you can kind of program people’s behavior.”
Another week, another set of ‘human’ skills which algorithms are mastering: Google demonstrates both an algorithm for tastefully selecting landscape photography, which is almost as good as a pro photographer, and, from the DeepMind division, “a new family of approaches for imagination-based planning (and) architectures which provide new ways for agents to learn and construct plans to maximize the efficiency of a task.”
Rough translation: AI which has the rudimentary ability to consider potential consequences of an action (‘imagine’) and plan ahead result in a higher success rate than AIs without this ability.
ImageNet: the data that changed AI research
Long, terrific overview of the history and impact of the ImageNet data set: “One thing ImageNet changed in the field of AI is suddenly people realized the thankless work of making a dataset was at the core of AI research. People really recognize the importance — the dataset is front and center in the research as much as algorithms.”
Auto Public Offering
Generally, ‘automation of white collar work’ is such an obviously disruptive category of AI — and near-term economic earthquake for many industries — that there is not much to say about it. However, this short piece by Bloomberg a few weeks back caught my eye: Apparently Goldman has automated (or at least mapped out how to automate) half the tasks needed to prepare for an IPO, thus replacing the work previously done by associates earning $326,000 a year. As Bill Gates famously said:“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”
The paradox of historical knowledge
And finally, I shared a pretty hefty quote from “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari last week related to algorithms and self. On a completely different topic, the book also contains a fantastic quote on the paradox of historical knowledge: “This is the paradox of historical knowledge: Knowledge that does not change behavior is useless. But knowledge that changes behavior quickly loses its relevance. The more data we have and the better we understand history, the faster history alters its course, and the faster our knowledge becomes outdated.”