Trying Everything

There is the saying, “chase two rabbits, catch none”.

I’d like to call “bullshit!”

Civilization does not have this same limitation. Our ability to coordinate means that multiple people can chase multiple rabbits, and that’s without technology.

It’s also a different story if you have systems for chasing multiple rabbits. It’s not hard to imagine some technology that enables you to do this effectively as one mere man with only two legs. There are already drones designed to follow mountain bikers and snowboarders without any human control. They avoid obstacles and keep the camera aimed fashionably. Why not use a swarm of drones to follow a whole set of rabbits?

We need to be experimenting like hell right now.

When it comes to potentially helpful developments, the key ‘next steps’ regarding our most challenging global problems, we need to be chasing hundreds, maybe hundreds of thousands of rabbits, knowing that most of them won’t necessarily work out for everyone. This is OK. We still need to try.

We don’t need to solve every problem. We do need to avoid catastrophic systemic collapse. There is a difference.

What do we consider catastrophic? I reckon it’s a spectrum. There’s talk of war. Nuclear catastrophe certainly is not off the table, regardless of war. Famine—I’d say that’s already here too. Water is a major concern, of course. So who knows what will come, but we do need to ensure access to shelter, water, and food regardless, no? We should ensure our capability to do this no matter what.

There’s plenty of work to be done in that.

We need the vision and discipline to make it possible.

Consider adaptive interventions designed with SMARTs—sequential, multiple assignment randomized trials. To quote the Penn State Methodology Center, SMART designs allow researchers (in the medical context):

  • to help patients who do not respond to initial treatment,
  • to respond if the effectiveness of an intervention wanes over time due to changes in the patient’s situation or response,
  • to prioritize when the patient possesses comorbid conditions (e.g., depression and alcoholism),
  • to address relapses (as are common when treating substance use),
  • to decrease burden and/or cost of the intervention when a patient is stable, and
  • to respond when patients do not adhere to a treatment.

This seems electrifyingly useful in non-medical contexts, no?

Could the deployment of adaptive interventions be one of the key disciplines of the 21st century? I think so.

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