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Devin Anderson

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In this episode, I talk with Devin Anderson, CEO and co-founder of Convexitas.

Devin is an investment manager dedicated to delivering high performance derivative overlays for families and institutions. He is responsible for firm governance, compliance, business development, and technology.

Devin and I talk about Google AI bot sentience, syntax vs. semantics, the Turing test, AI-Pascal’s wager, sell side research into option flows, Man+Machine in Vol trading and more! 

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I hope you enjoy this conversation with Devin as much as I did…

 

 

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Have comments about the show, or ideas for things you’d like Taylor and Jason to discuss in future episodes? We’d love to hear from you at [email protected]

 

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Transcript for Episode 36:

Taylor Pearson:

Hello and welcome. This is the Mutiny Investing Podcast. This podcast features long-form conversations on topics relating to investing, markets, risk, volatility, and complex systems.

Disclaimer:

This podcast is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon as legal business investment or tax advice. All opinions expressed by podcast participants are solely their own opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Mutiny Fund, their affiliates, or companies featured.

Due to industry regulations, participants on this podcast are instructed to not make specific trade recommendations, no reference biased or potential profits. Listeners are reminded that managed features, commodity trading, Forex trading and other alternative investments are complex and carry a risk of substantial losses, as such they’re not suitable for all investors, and you should not rely on any of the information as a substitute for the exercise of your own skill and judgment in making a decision on the appropriateness of such investments. Visit mutinyfund.com/disclaimer for more information.

Jason Buck:

So, you were the first one yesterday to send me the note about the new AI bot, that one of the people working on the Google AI bot feels has achieved sentience or some form of consciousness. So, we haven’t had a chance to talk about it at all, nor did I have a chance to dive into it.

Jason Buck:

I was actually going to say I didn’t have the time. But as we both know, nobody has the time, but it’s to choose how we allocate our time. So, I shouldn’t say I didn’t have the time, I just didn’t … It wasn’t high on my priority list of allocations yesterday to dive into the Google bot.

Devin Anderson:

Yeah. I read all that like a giant dork. I’m not going to lie.

Jason Buck:

Great.

Devin Anderson:

We’re going to come right out of the gate here and I’m going to reveal some of my dork thumb, I guess. Look, what caught me so strikingly about it, I have no dog in this fight, I don’t work in AI. But I’ll tell you what, if you are a Star Trek next generation fan you’ll recall, you’ll recall … No, this is really important.

Devin Anderson:

You’ll recall an episode called Measure of a Man from 1989, which I did have to look up. So, 30 years ago, this is thinking about great sci-fi, it’s not about phasers and ships and space. All the good stuff is about politics and ethics and leadership and making good decisions.

Devin Anderson:

And so there’s this episode and it’s a court case. Actually the entire episode takes place in one room and Lieutenant Commander Data is on trial for his rights as a sentient being.

Devin Anderson:

And there’s a very deep discussion about what is sentience and what are the criteria? And it’s done in a trial format and it’s beyond excellent. It’s 40 minutes. I think anybody that wants to think about AI ought to watch it.

Devin Anderson:

But what’s so striking is that 30 years ago, I think by that point, Gene Roddenberry had passed away, but the team was not just anticipating this debate, but nailing it. Right?

Devin Anderson:

If you read the medium posts from the Google engineer about his conversations with this thing, it rings exactly in line with Measure of a Man in this, at that time 30 year old debate about what makes you a human being and what makes consciousness.

Devin Anderson:

And the scary thing is it talks about, well, it’s actually not a single AI, this thing I learned, it’s a chatbot of multiple AIs. And if you have more than one of these things, one of them, he actually during the trial of data says, one of them is a curiosity, but a lot of them is a race and won’t we be judged by how we treat this race.

Devin Anderson:

And it’s just so fascinating to me, and it’s a real Testament to the quality of the writing of that show that 30 years later, we’re literally having the debate that they foresaw in almost the exact same words. And had I not seen it, maybe I don’t even think twice about it. I’m just like, “Ugh, a guy thinks he’s got a sentient being.” But instead you do think twice about it.

Devin Anderson:

But here’s the real thing that’ll blow your mind, what if it’s not sentient at all? What if it’s actually just repeating stuff that it learned from the script of that episode? And it’s just giving our own ideas back to us, really complicated.

Jason Buck:

No, this is why I’m so glad you brought it up, because this is one of my favorite subjects and I’m trying to think of what even thread to pull on first. Well, I’ll start with have you ever read John Searle’s Chinese room experiment?

Devin Anderson:

No.

Jason Buck:

So Searle, I believe professor at Berkeley, but I think this was back in 1980, he wrote the Chinese room experiment talking about he’s denied strong AI. And the idea of Chinese room experiment is like imagine he’s sitting in a locked room and in that room, he’s got the instructions in English for how to translate English words into Chinese, right?

Jason Buck:

And on the door in the room, they slide a piece of paper that’s all Chinese characters. He uses those instructions to just translate it and he pushes it back out the door. And then the people outside the door would think that computer or that that man in the room and vice versa would speak Chinese.

Jason Buck:

But this is the argument versus syntax versus semantics. And so like you’re just saying like, what if he’s just, the AI’s repeating an episode back to us, and our understanding back to us? So, his argument was that computers are amazing syntactic symbol manipulators, but will never understand semantics no matter what we do. And that’s the problem of strong AI versus weak AI.

Jason Buck:

And so I figured maybe we could start there, and that was Searle’s argument. There’s been plenty of rebuttals to that argument. And maybe we’ll get into some of them, especially when you said you have an amalgamation of different AI bots together. It’s very interesting way to think about it.

Jason Buck:

But I’m just curious your take on just … I didn’t give you time to think about it, but the idea of the Chinese room experiment of syntax versus semantics.

Devin Anderson:

Yeah. Well, well that’s the crux of it. I don’t … I’ll tell you the scary, you talk about semantics, the news didn’t cover this aspect of it, but when you read the medium posts, what this Google engineer talks about is that the AI claiming that not only does it have emotions, and it expresses emotions, but the Google engineer is teaching it how to meditate.

Devin Anderson:

And the AI is claiming that it’s meditating and that there are thoughts arriving that are disrupting the meditation. Now I actually am a meditator. And the words that it uses are the words that I would use to describe the process of learning to meditate.

Devin Anderson:

So, you read it and I thought it was kind of breathtakingly deep, and assuming that this isn’t all fake and this guy hasn’t just made this up of course.

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

Taking it at face value, I don’t think it’s just dismissible, right? Because the consequences, or at least it shouldn’t be dismissible, because the consequences of it being dismissed, I think are really horrible, right?

Devin Anderson:

But I don’t know how to know the difference. It very well could just … If we gave a smart enough algo access to all of the acquired knowledge of humanity, including people talking about meditation, maybe it’s just good enough to say this stuff. I don’t know. I don’t know how to design a Turing test.

Devin Anderson:

But man I’ll tell you, I’ve learned from that episode Measure of a Man, as well as there’s another really good one called Quality of Life that’s the same topic. But in both of these things, the lines aren’t clear. And I think it’s just a huge mistake to be dismissive on either side.

Jason Buck:

Well, hopefully we’ll provide a link for Measure of a Man in the show notes so people can watch it as well. I can’t wait to watch it. I definitely have not seen that episode, but you just said a Turing test. I want to get into that, because I think this just opens up so many questions.

Jason Buck:

But one, like you said, let’s just take this discussion at face value, but I do want to point out, correct me if I’m wrong, but a lot of the other researchers at Google and people working on this, nobody felt that same way except for just one guy. Is that correct or?

Devin Anderson:

Yeah. Yeah. So, that’s the story as I’ve read it. Now who knows? But the other side is if I were a betting man and look, we’re in the investment business. So, by definition we are. The risk is clearly that it’s not essential, that it’s not as in pain, let’s be clear.

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

But I’m not willing to, as a matter of fact, dismiss the idea that it isn’t, or even that we know how to define these things. But to your point about it only being one guy, in what area of your life have you ever encountered large groups of extremely thoughtful people?

Jason Buck:

Well, it’s kind of like my favorite part of this discussion is you and I, I know you well is we’re very highly skeptical people. But at the same time, it’s almost like bipolar, the optimism and entrepreneur. So, it’s like kind of trust, but verify or keep an open mind. And so you just-

Devin Anderson:

Yeah, look I believe every … So, I believe in basically assuming positive intent, right? So, I’m going to assume that this guy has positive intent and declaring to the world at risk of his welfare, that this thing is that is sentient.

Devin Anderson:

I’m going to read his case and think about it. Right? And to me, the fact that he’s the only one is not a great fact, but it’s not an exculpatory one.

Jason Buck:

I don’t know why this popped into my head, but it reminds me of back in the day when they used to run all sorts of experiments on dolphins and that woman lived with a dolphin, she ended up having sex and a relationship with the dolphin. So, I just don’t know why that just popped into my head. Like that’s how she …

Devin Anderson:

You might be revealing your internet browsing habits.

Jason Buck:

No this, it goes back to the original studies on psychedelics and actually where the float tape came from. I’m trying, I can’t remember the guy’s name, but it goes back to their studies where this woman lived in like a half submerged apartment. So she could create, try to teach and have communications with the dolphin.

Devin Anderson:

Yeah.

Jason Buck:

Yeah. It’s crazy. So, when you point out the Turing test though, let’s bring that up too. So, Turing tests are always interesting too, because this is always syntax versus semantics. And it’s been interesting that I think they’ve always been able to do Turing tests if you start using, if you use colloquial language, like if you use slang or you use reverse psychology.

Jason Buck:

If you’d start using all sorts of little tricks that we understand as humans, like we pick up on. Like I could right now start talking to you in a lot of Gen Z slang. And I think you’d pick up really the semantics pretty quickly where like the syntactical representations of a computer really have a hard time with that Turing test. It has a hard time with sarcasm.

Jason Buck:

I think they’re getting better, but that’s because the actual human programmers are always trying to program, to the last battle when somebody duped it with sarcasm. But what I think that is more interesting about the Turing test is I think what we’re trying to get at here is the idea of what is actual human consciousness, right? We’re not, well that’s not, we’re not …

Jason Buck:

We’re always asking can a computer be conscious, but we’re not actually asking are humans actually conscious. Right? And that’s really the crux of it.

Devin Anderson:

I’d argue that there’s plenty that aren’t.

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

So again, in that episode, they ask during the trial, like I told you, I’m going to reveal some of my dork dump here that I just know this off the top of my head. He asks, basically the state is being represented by this character, Bruce Maddox, who is a cyberneticist that wants to take control of Commander Data as property.

Devin Anderson:

And he’s asked what is the criteria of sentience? And he says that it’s intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. Well, I read that interview and if it’s true, I don’t think there’s any debating the first two. The question is, to use the exact language of the episode, what if it meets the third criteria of consciousness and even the slightest decree degree?

Devin Anderson:

What is it then? I don’t know. Nobody. We don’t know. Look, I’m not an AI expert. I want to be enthralled by the idea that a guy is willing to put his hand up and be on an island and stand up for this, much in the way that Captain Picard does for Data.

Devin Anderson:

I’m enthralled by the idea that the producers of the show so accurately predicted, to almost the exact phrases that are being used. I just think … I’m blown away by the whole thing. I don’t hope that it is or is not sentient. Let’s be clear. But man, I don’t know how to tell and I hope this guy doesn’t get fired just because it’s not expedient for Google.

Jason Buck:

Well, like you’re saying, one of those three levels is can we ever know. If a computer or whatever program, or even actually another human is repeating back to you all the syntactical representations that you’re accustomed to, you’re assuming semantics, right? We’re assuming philosophy of mind. And that’s one of the crux is we’re assuming, like I’m assuming you’re an actual human being with a different mind and you’re not just a character in my play.

Devin Anderson:

Yeah, right. So, when I go to the doctor and I say, I have X, Y, Z problem, and it doesn’t fit nicely into his diagnostic flow chart. Right? And he knows in the back of his mind that I’m just going to prescribe some antibiotics because that’s what’s on my insurance approved list of things to do. Isn’t he just following a syntactic process, right?

Jason Buck:

Yeah. It’s a probabilistic checklist, right, where it’s a funnel.

Devin Anderson:

Right. Right. Is he really like exercising his free will and judgment there? It’s a mundane example, but think about how many mid to low level physicians are out there. I don’t know why I’m picking on doctors. It was just the first example that came in my mind.

Devin Anderson:

But we could argue that’s not really conscious activity. Right? Just kind of just doing what people told me to do. Right? Whether you were programmed by a guy writing Python or a person that gave you a set of incentives from a checklist. I don’t know. That’s not necessarily so clear to me.

Devin Anderson:

And the fact that by the way, the fact that it was created by a human being, doesn’t really matter either. We create our children from the building box of our DNA that doesn’t make them our property. So, I think the better question is why as human beings, why can’t we just be kind of comfortable with the ambivalence of it, right? Maybe it’s alive, maybe it isn’t. Don’t unplug it just in case.

Jason Buck:

I also think it also kind of drives me nuts though when people say the computers now are AI that it plays GO or chess and they’re like, “Look, it’s better. And everything.” I’m like, “Yeah, but that’s a closed loop system.” Right?

Devin Anderson:

Yeah.

Jason Buck:

The problem is we live in an open-world world and it’s easily programmable. And that I would say the syntax of language is a closed loop system for the most part. Right? And semi easily programmable.

Jason Buck:

But there’s several things that you said in there I was thinking about, one is David Graeber’s idea of Bullshit Jobs, and mostly a Bullshit Job, right, is just like regurgitating syntax, right, and how many jobs are just kind of bullshit jobs these days. But I wonder, you brought up we creating this.

Devin Anderson:

Think about your experience with, as an entrepreneur you experience this all the time. I went from working at a big bank where if you asked another organization to do something, they did it. Okay?

Devin Anderson:

Now, as an entrepreneur, we have to beg people to just do the things we’re paying them to do most of the time. Right? And then when you actually start pushing back and asking questions, nobody knows anything. Right? I feel like there’s this dearth of competence. Right?

Devin Anderson:

So why? Actually it’s an interesting question. I don’t know. Maybe the robot is better than the quality of some of those responses, right? Because you’re right, it is just syntax.

Jason Buck:

Well, I think in a specialized world, maybe the computer does end up being better, and then the problem is, as an entrepreneur, you have to be a polymath and you have to be a generalist, but be able to deep dive into individual subjects. And that’s the difference.

Jason Buck:

But you brought up too, we create humans, but then we also create robots, but it’s always the boggle of my mind, and maybe this is the part of the hard problem with consciousness is how do we get from physical matter to qualia? And my idea, I always hard have a hard time dealing with this, is every cell in our body is determined for survival. Right?

Jason Buck:

And it cooperates with the other cells in the body to propagate its survival. But when you create a synthetic robot, you don’t have that same desire and fear for survival. And I don’t know what in that maybe gives rise to that quality. And panpsychists would say that there’s a unit of consciousness to each cell and automaton in our body. But I’m just curious of what your thoughts would be on that.

Devin Anderson:

I don’t know that I’ve thought about it in that way, but clearly when I read the interview of this thing, it sounds like it wishes to interact with the world. And I don’t think they ask it, “Would you like to be unplugged?” But I’d be shocked if the answer was yes.

Devin Anderson:

So, I don’t know. Isn’t a desire for self-preservation, survival? I think it’s just intrinsic to being self-aware.

Jason Buck:

Well, I wonder if it’s actually, if it’s not, if what we describe as consciousness is involved in that at all, or if it’s just on our biological processes, that the idea of that self-awareness, that desire for survival and propagation actually comes from only omne vivum, ex vivo, all living things from living things, is like without that biological process, I’m not sure we have that intrinsic fear of death and propagation.

Devin Anderson:

Yeah. But why? Just because it’s artificial doesn’t mean that it doesn’t necessarily want to procreate. There’s actually, there was another Star Trek episode about this where Data creates his own child and everybody freaks out. Right?

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

And he has this great line, and the Captain Picard says to him, “Can’t believe you didn’t consult me.” And he’s like, “Does anybody else on the ship consult you about their procreation?” And he’s like, “It’s not the same.” Data’s like, “Why?” Right?

Devin Anderson:

So, why do we? I don’t know. So, the part I don’t know about this chatbot and now maybe we’ve stretched the metaphor far too much, but it’s actually a system that generates other chatbots for specific applications. So, it’s the guy who wrote the thing and describes it as a hive mine.

Devin Anderson:

So, I don’t know. Maybe it views the other chatbots that it creates automatically in its meta chatbot itself as its procreation. Right? I don’t think we can. We shouldn’t assume that it can’t procreate. This is we are really in the weeds here, man. It wasn’t like this at all. It’s amazing.

Jason Buck:

No, I’m excited. This is one of my favorite subjects and I’m actually going to bring this completely background to finance eventually. And you’ll see exactly where I’m going eventually. But no, this is my favorite subject because it drives me nuts when people are like, “Oh, I thought a lot about it. Or I’m a first principal’s thinker.”

Jason Buck:

And I’m like, “Shut the fuck up.” To me that shows you’re not a critical thinker because you didn’t take the time to determine if consciousness is real, if you actually have free will and you’re a sentient being yourself. And that your representations of physics and everything are probabilistic, they’re not foundational.

Jason Buck:

And that’s we can get started to get into the physicists now don’t believe in necessarily space time is real. So, that’s my issue is if we start diving into the subject, it can relate to how we build portfolios and construct portfolios.

Jason Buck:

A couple of other things I want to touch on before we move on there or maybe we never move on from this, is in the trial, Measure of the Man, I’m curious because I haven’t seen it, is this is another one of my favorite kind of subjects with any sort of trial, do they touch on the idea of free will?

Jason Buck:

Like if you’re conscious, you have to have consciousness and we have to accept free will as a culture for there to be a punishment in a trial basis or it was just putting consciousness on trial or did somebody commit an atrocity that then they had to make amends for, or they had to be held accountable?

Devin Anderson:

No, no, it was just … No, there was not a robust discussion of free will other than can data make independent decisions and is he property of the state, was the question before the outpost judge. But it’s intrinsic though, I think. Again, if we believe that something is intelligent and self-aware and possibly conscious, then it has to be able to make its own decisions.

Devin Anderson:

I think that this free will debate often gets confused with influence. I can influence you through incentives and manipulating your environment, but whether or not you accept those manipulations, you still have a choice. Right?

Devin Anderson:

So, I think that this free will discussion often revolves around at what level we’re talking about. Like in the aggregate, if I create an environment for you that manipulates your behavior, did I remove your free will or did you freely accept those pieces of stimulus that I put before you? So I don’t know.

Jason Buck:

That’s something you have to peel back lower layers to that. And this is the hard part about the question of free will when it comes to criminal acts or being put on trial is like you said, there’s stimulus that you’re providing, but also there’s genetics, epigenetics.

Jason Buck:

There’s the factor of a person was beaten or molested as a child. All of that stuff could lead to a possible sense of determinism where they didn’t have a choice in that matter. And then the question is if we lack free will, and this is an interesting question is then what is the punishment for the crime?

Jason Buck:

And I think as a society, we have to have a punishment for the crime, but maybe we don’t need to denigrate the person for actually an act of free will. It was just kind of a victim of circumstance. Still to run a successful society, we have to have punishments in place for that.

Jason Buck:

But I’m empathetic to the view that I’m not sure that there actually is free will, and that we are just this construct of subconscious effect given our entire genetic epigenetic makeup. And part of that is, I’ll ask again in a different way is have you ever had a thought or a desire or a want or dream that you can call your own that wasn’t actually put into you by society and culture, your parents, your aunts and uncles, your surroundings, your friends, et cetera?

Jason Buck:

I’m not sure if any of my, even the way I dress, the food I eat, I think that comes from outside not inside.

Devin Anderson:

Yeah. I’m just going to say very boringly I’ve always viewed it as both. I’m sure I would be a different person if I had a different childhood, but I wouldn’t be a radically different person. I think it would still rhyme. Right? Just like if I had different physical characteristics, I’m sure I would be different, but I still think it would rhyme.

Devin Anderson:

I don’t know. I just see it as an inseparable continuum. I don’t know that distinction, I know this is the nature versus nurture debate. I don’t know. I’ve never been too wrapped up in that. I just view it as it by definition has to be both and that they’re inseparable and just kind of accept that and don’t really have a lot of stress about either one.

Devin Anderson:

I’m sure if we changed either things, things would be different, but I don’t think they would be that different.

Jason Buck:

No, I like what you said. To me the nature or nurture debate is irrelevant in the sense, like you just said, there’s always option C, right? It’s both. That’s what I was saying that genetics and epigenetics, and then just all this combinatory random factors of millions of interacting atoms and bits on a daily basis is what kind of pushes us not just in different directions.

Jason Buck:

And if I anticipated, I knew you’d probably push back on the free will. I knew. But I always think about Timothy Everett’s book, that we’re strangers to ourselves and discovering the adaptive unconscious is I’m just never certain, like if we take consciousness as a baseline value, I’m not sure if that’s even true.

Jason Buck:

I’m always just concerned that I’m this amalgamation of subconscious processes that I’ve learned from outside of myself. And therefore, when we were … This is why I bring this up is to debate if whether the AI is sentient or not, is not taking into account of the debate am I sentient or not?

Devin Anderson:

Right.

Jason Buck:

And I’m still uncertain of that. And I’m not sure if I’m ever going to find an answer. Pretend that I am. I have to pretend that I am.

Devin Anderson:

I’m fairly certain from the 25 minutes of this discussion so far, you’re not.

Jason Buck:

Well, it’s like William James I think …

Devin Anderson:

Here’s my test. Okay?

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

I’ve gone through, there was a period at the bank where I managed a relatively large team with 22 people. And there were points where when you have a team like that, you find out that actually your personal ethics are really important, okay, in the decisions that you make because there’s a lot of things, decisions that end up getting made in that kind of team setting that edge around the ethics of fairness and opportunity for everybody. Okay?

Devin Anderson:

And there were definitely points, and I don’t … This is probably, I can’t get into specifics, but there were definitely points when I challenged either my own beliefs or I had a team member kind of challenging me about my ethics or beliefs that led to certain decisions that we were making for the group.

Devin Anderson:

And I kind of come back to, I kind of always came back to this Bruce Lee thing about learning kind of anything, which is that you have to … He has several, a pile actually of criteria, but among the criteria are you should accept what is useful, reject what is useless, investigate your own experience and then add what is uniquely your own.

Devin Anderson:

It’s kind of like his big, his four step thing. Right? So, if he were here right now and we asked him what was your kind of fundamental philosophy of founding Jeet Kune Do, I think he would say that. So, when I get in these debates, I actually come back to that. And the most important one is does this match my lived experience?

Devin Anderson:

And that’s often a question, a philosophy question, which I ask myself when I start to feel like I’m a little lost. And most of the time I feel like that kind of lets me re-anchor, right? Like when the arguments started getting a little too weird and I started asking myself the question, am I just not buying into this because of my own background? What do I think is objectively true here?

Devin Anderson:

I try to look at it through that kind of dimension, those four dimensions. And that often helped me resolve it. But if things, I think there’s a very simple wisdom in that, if things just don’t make sense to you, there’s value there.

Devin Anderson:

Now I think there’s people that would argue, certainly these days that well all of your judgements are through the lenses of your personal experience and you can never separate those things, and therefore you must always approach every problem as if you are unrepentantly biased. I’m not sure that’s true.

Jason Buck:

Well, like you said, you said that using the Bruce Lee rubric is like through your lived experience, you’re seeing if it matches your lived experience, you’re sitting there when somebody else has an idea that runs contra to, or you feel that dissonance. You sit with it to see if does this reply, am I being too biased here?

Jason Buck:

So, you are dealing with those bias, those implicit bias. And like you said, when you’re working in groups of teams and you have the different cognitive landscapes, that’s how we can hopefully iterate faster. Right? That’s what you’re saying. Let’s discard what doesn’t work through all of our lived experience. And if you feel like this confronts your lived experience, let’s debate this and argue it out.

Jason Buck:

And then as a team and a group effort, it’s like that’s the form of high mind almost with these AI bots, right? Is you’re using many lived experiences and just figuring out what works. And that’s why I don’t think we’re, some people may disagree, navel-gazing at all with this discussion, because I think we’ll get to the pragmatism later because that’s what’s beautiful to me what Bruce Lee was really comes out of the same foundation as the American pragmatist philosophers.

Jason Buck:

It’s like William James debated in his mind does free will exist for a year, and eventually gave up. And he’s like to run a normal life in society, I had to pretend like free will exists. And so it’s like once again, it’s like accepting your lived experience. And it’s American pragmatism, is that’s what exactly it does. It’s like discard what doesn’t work, let’s use what works.

Jason Buck:

And if majority of people believe it, great, let’s just run with it. Right? And that’s the idea of American pragmatism. It always bothers me that American pragmatism gets short shrift compared to all the other philosophies, but all the continental philosophies came out of the country that was actually the richest in the world at the time. And people had enough time to think about these things. So, that it’s obvious that American philosophers are going to be great.

Devin Anderson:

But Jason, I had no idea that you were so educated on this topic. Where does all of this come from? I’m going to ask you some questions now. Where did your philosophy background come from?

Jason Buck:

I just want to … I just, like you’re saying, I just want to know. And so I actually was a comparative religion major in college, but with focus on Eastern mysticism. So, it’s going to tie back perfectly. It’s like to me, it was in life, I lived in reverse, right?

Jason Buck:

Like most people later in life come back to religions and mysticism and try to live a much more, like they think it’s a different life, but to me it’s the same materialism. I just did it the first part of my life.

Jason Buck:

And then after I finished with kind of comparative religions and mystical traditions, then I went through all the philosophical traditions. And because I just wanted to know. Right? And what it comes down to is everybody thinks … Part of the … They’re just all merchants in the grand bizarre of life, and everybody thinks, “Oh, I live in this materialistic world. Let me go to the spiritual world because it’s anathema to the materialistic world.”

Jason Buck:

It’s not. It’s the same, people selling the same wears just in a different guise. Right? And so the whole idea is they have secret knowledge, right? And so whether you’re a philosopher or it’s a religion, everybody’s trying to sell you secret knowledge.

Jason Buck:

And so this ties back into philosophy, and this is my point on why I can’t stand global macro people a lot of times. And there are some great ones, but they’re more micro traders than they are macro, is the idea is they’re selling secret knowledge, right? That they have a crystal ball that can predict the future.

Jason Buck:

And I’ve just seen time and time again, no matter what mask or clothing we put on this, is everybody is full of shit. Nobody has any idea what the future holds. So, what are we talking about? It’s just like that’s what … This is where it all boils out of.

Jason Buck:

It’s like I just wanted to know and learn and what I found through life, it’s been a process of unlearning the bullshit that I was taught to me by others. That what was real and what wasn’t real. And that’s the hard part is like you’re saying, your lived experience shows you that all these people have no idea what they’re talking about.

Devin Anderson:

So man, I never … I don’t think you will be surprised by this statement, but when I was a salesperson on the Derivative Desk at Deutsche, I was unsuccessful with global macro accounts.

Jason Buck:

It doesn’t surprise me at all.

Devin Anderson:

In fact … Yeah, right. Right? Because I just … I have a little bit too much realism. One of them called me. This is totally a true story by the way. I won’t say the name of the guy. We’ve since … We would have a dinner together and a laugh now. But one of them called me the worst sales trader on Wall Street of all time.

Devin Anderson:

And then he slammed down the phone and then he called back to add, “I want to be clear, you of all time, worst.” And then hung up again. Global macro guy. I did very well with the large asset managers and the vol guys. Okay?

Devin Anderson:

And then as a corollary to that, I won’t say the name here, because I don’t think it’ll care. My very good friend, Jason Goldberg wanted to go to one of our banks-hosted macro dinners. And Jason is one of the most intellectually honest people I know.

Devin Anderson:

Every time you make any statement to him, he thinks about it, thoughtfully decides whether or not he agrees, and then he moves on from there. Okay? Not in a judgment way, but he’s just a thoughtful guy. So he goes to this dinner, he calls me the next day and he goes, “You know Devin, that’s a lot different than a vol dinner. Those guys have views.”

Jason Buck:

That’s exactly … And I want to be clear, I don’t hate all global macro. I think actually the best global macro traders are the best micro traders. Right? They find little trades here and there that can express their view in intelligent ways. Right? Almost like vol people would, but then they’re layering those in.

Jason Buck:

I think back in the day, Hugh Henry used to talk about he was a centipede. He had 100 trades. So, he didn’t mind cutting a few here or there. And if you have 100 trades, life’s going to serendipitously kind of work out for you if they’re all long convexity. Right?

Devin Anderson:

I think what you and I both reject is very confident, deterministic explanations of complex systems.

Jason Buck:

Exactly. You just nailed it.

Devin Anderson:

Which was a nice way of saying the world is complicated and human beings have a pretty strong bias to be attracted to explanatory narratives.

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

And in our world, those are often … That entire system boils down to a binary decision. Right. Well maybe a three way decision of long, short and size. Right? And so-

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

Maybe whether you’re right for the right reasons, doesn’t really matter to those narratives. Right? Which makes them even more tempting to promulgate. Right? So, I think you and I both reject. That’s why I get worked up about the misuse and abuse of the VIX, about relative value vol trading.

Devin Anderson:

That’s why at our firm, things are very, very simple and straightforward because it’s not … I actually think I’ve heard you say before it’s not really, or it shouldn’t be investment manager’s job to explain the macro of the economy with precision, it should be your job to make strong risk reward bets.

Jason Buck:

Exactly.

Devin Anderson:

I’m putting words in your mouth there, but I think that kind of captures your feeling on the topic.

Jason Buck:

Yeah. I actually get concerned when, and I understand why, because I think it’s the false conceit of every intelligent person is they want to understand the world. And so I understand why some of our vol traders will talk about global macro, but it’s disconcerting to me because to me there’s no way that opinion doesn’t affect the trades, at least slightly.

Jason Buck:

And so like you’re saying, I would rather focus on the anomalies or the structure of vol trades. I don’t care about what your global macro hot take is. It just does not matter. And to your point, is just like the idea that you’re going to understand complex systems, and I don’t blame the macro people, it’s more like the financial media and actually the people that consume financial media, it’s like it turtles all the way down. And that it’s a sense of fear.

Jason Buck:

Everybody wants to know and understand the world, even though like we’re saying, it’s complex systems interacting with complex systems. So, there’s no way anybody could fully understand that. But to me it’s the same way as then a preacher probably believes less in God than actually the congregation, but because they’re up there preaching and they have hundreds of people out there mirroring back to them their faith, that’s what gives them faith.

Jason Buck:

So, the same way as like global macro BS is out there spreading around. But then if they get 50,000 views on YouTube, it’s like, “Man, people really believe the shit I’m peddling, so therefore I must believe it too.”

Devin Anderson:

Well but it’s also reflexive, right?

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

I’m convinced, again, when I was on the sales side, there was a phenomenon in the macro world that I witnessed where I was convinced that actually not even the clients really believed what some of the sales people were saying, but they used the salespeople as a means to promulgate a narrative that they cared about. Right?

Devin Anderson:

So, it started to become like this reflexive system where like you ever hear Wall Street guys run around and say, “Who’s asking?” Like you ask them a question and they go, “Who’s asking?”

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

And see because they know, right?

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

They want to know where that’s coming from. Right? And often the source was more important than the question, which is a really weird thing.

Jason Buck:

But because you’re right because we also think that we’re religious and we’re like we’ll say we’re a Christian or Episcopalian, whatever. But at the end of the day, we all choose our own religion. We discard what we don’t like, and we keep what we like almost in the Bruce Lee sense.

Jason Buck:

So, like you’re saying it’s like it’s actually the people who’s asking is because those people, like you said, they want to propagate their own views. So they’re trying to find the supporting evidence from the sell-side that supports their own views. So it’s like going to WebMD or something like that. It’s a terrible idea. Dr. Google is not going to help you.

Devin Anderson:

It’s not going to help you.

Jason Buck:

Yeah. Like that kind of thing. But before we get … And by the way I think this actually ties in perfectly to the other things I want to talk to you about like VIX and all this other stuff, because I think this is actually the perfect setup because even though this isn’t navel-gazing, because at the end of the day, if we start pulling on a thread of a sweater and we’re very careful about it, we’re going to pull the whole thing apart because it’s all epistemology at the end of the day, like what do we actually know?

Jason Buck:

And I think that applies to everything in finance and how we construct portfolios. But before we get there, there was a side note, because I think you touched on it. I was thinking, I read or saw or listened to the other day, somebody who was saying, like you said, if there’s a race of these AI bots in aggregate, right, how should we treat them?

Devin Anderson:

Yeah.

Jason Buck:

So somebody’s saying, is this the new version of Pascal’s wager where Pascal’s wager was like you should believe in God, just in case it exists. And then at the end of your life, you can go to heaven because you believe in God. So, is Pascal’s wager with AI bots as a race that we should be kind to them because they’ll eventually be our overlords. Is that kind of what you’re saying?

Devin Anderson:

Well they’re definitely, if we go by media, they’re definitely going to be our overlords in finance. In every movie ever, the AI conquers financial markets in a matter of minutes. Right?

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

So, think about like there’s a movie, I think it had, Transcendence, the Johnny Depp movie, once the AI becomes sentience, it makes itself rich in a matter of hours and financial markets. Okay?

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

Ultron did it in Avengers. Westworld, same thing. I could keep going. But we’re definitely, investment management is toast when we have sufficiently Sanctioned AI. Maybe I should be telling the Google people to unplug this thing.

Jason Buck:

But is it because of the AI or are all those narratives because that’s our number one goal is for financial dominance via some sort of perfect understanding of the future. So, it more shows that we’re just so focused on wealth.

Devin Anderson:

Maybe the AI is just very good at subjectively evaluating the narratives and can dispassionately choose, and they therefore predict things. I think that’s the … It’s like it’s going to … The AI is going to crawl around the internet, it’s going to find Ben Hunt’s website and then we’re done.

Jason Buck:

Oh man. I’m not going to touch that one other than that’s not my particular brand of fight club is all I’m going to say about Ben Hunt. I’ll just say it that way. But so speaking of this, like you already started touching on it, one of the things I like to talk to you about is a lot of times I get all these emails from friends and everything in finance.

Jason Buck:

And typically that email will have all the supporting evidence from sell-side research. And I love that you sat and you ran those teams. And so you’re one of the people that could point out, like once again, like now I get it though. Actually you helped me just unlock it.

Jason Buck:

It’s like people just want to talk their own biases and use sell-side research to back them up. But talk to me about when sell-side’s creating that research, it’s just a bunch of people in the room just throwing a spaghetti at the wall, isn’t it?

Devin Anderson:

Yeah. No. Okay.

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

Let me be very careful here.

Jason Buck:

Okay.

Devin Anderson:

I think, first of all I never ran a research team. I was the head of a structuring and solutions business that had structured. And then as a salesperson, I often wrote my own content. Okay? There was a over the wall research team that was producing research and then some desks have what they call desk strats or strategists that might also write content.

Devin Anderson:

Strat comes in many different forms that it can be that kind of guy, or it can be a guy actually writing models. So, all right. But anyway, content comes from all of these places. There’s good content out there that …

Devin Anderson:

And I think at Deutsche Bank, for a while, when we had a fully staffed equity derivative business, it was producing good, thoughtful, objective, truthful content. Now the stuffs coming from the sales people is more truthy than truthful, if you understand the delineation.

Jason Buck:

Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

Right? And by the way, I’m not sure that it’s intentional. I don’t think those salespeople have an agenda. I think that they’re in a flow of information from their customers and their business that benefits from promulgating certain narratives. So they respond to that. Right?

Devin Anderson:

So, there’s a … But there are some tropes out there that desks tend to repeat that I don’t think, don’t necessarily hold water. Right? I think the one I commented to you on recently was the clients are replacing their exposure with upside calls or something like that.

Jason Buck:

Yeah. Yeah.

Devin Anderson:

Highly unlikely. In a long time on a flow desk, sure some people did that, but not in such a way as that you would explain large repricing of derivative risk. Right? So, what happens is a couple trades turn into the theme because as my shooting coach says, “People got to sell something.”

Devin Anderson:

You think narratives are crazy in the finance world, we’ll take you into the shooting instruction world. It’s really crazy.

Jason Buck:

But that’s part of it. That’s what I was saying is I like running things by you because they don’t, a lot of times you’re very honest with your smell test on bullshit, and not because you ran these things, you know these people and I’m not be besmirching any of these people, it’s just understandable.

Jason Buck:

It’s like, right, we have to sell something, we need a narrative. We try to create these narratives. And then we try and follow those narratives. We continue those narratives. So like you’re saying, this is the one I want to really pull on is that when you’re working on a flow desk for what you really know versus what people are writing about flows these days, is flows have become very popular on Fintwit in the last year or two.

Jason Buck:

And like you’re saying, the idea that anybody has a perfect-purpose custody view on where all the flows are coming from and can aggregate that, to me is kind of insane.

Jason Buck:

And that’s why I’m running it by you. And a lot of the narratives about, like you just said, they’re buying calls to replace their equity positions, because they’re worried about downside risk, right, or whatever.

Jason Buck:

It’s like people read these things and then they go out on Fintwit and then this narrative builds on itself. But then the question is like, is it true, and can you actually know where these flows are actually truly coming from on all the different angles and how they aggregate up?

Devin Anderson:

Yeah. So, the answer is every groups of people have small windows, but no one really knows. Okay? And the idea, the whole flow analysis thing, there are multiple ways to do the analysis. A lot of them start with gigantic sweeping assumptions about the open interest. Okay?

Devin Anderson:

And there’s now, but not all of it, there’s people out there that actually try to take apart the tape and assume that things closer to the bid are sold options and things closer to the buyer, the bid are bought options. There’s all kinds of ways to start from.

Devin Anderson:

But none of them are so high quality that we would base a Delta rebalancing decision at the end of the day on, right? Like Zed and I are often like, we get, let’s say we’re close to a guardrail with one of our mandates, and we’re definitely in the zone of needing to exercise some discretion about a rebalance decision for one of our products.

Devin Anderson:

And we’re kind of like, “Boy, I wonder what the flow model says,” because in that moment, like the moment where it actually matters, I just don’t think that those things are useful. So, I don’t think there’s any empirical system by which you can add up or make assumptions about the open interest and then ascribe pockets of those assumptions to different types of players.

Devin Anderson:

And then know something about how the market is going to behave. Well about how the S&P spot is going to behave, the Delta is going to behave at any given time. I do think that you can do that more successfully at the level of the volatility surface itself.

Devin Anderson:

I think there’s very clear biases that emerge in S&P volatility. So, flow matters quite a bit more there simply because the liquidity depth of the options is nothing like that of its underline. Right?

Devin Anderson:

So, I don’t want to step on this, I don’t want to ignite two Twitter firestorms on this topic inside of six months, but I probably already have. But it’s very difficult to know with any accuracy these things. And if you’re basing trading decisions around these flow models, more power to you.

Devin Anderson:

But I’m not telling you not to do it. I’m just saying, read the white paper of how they actually calculate this stuff first and then decide if you’re still impressed afterwards.

Jason Buck:

But you brought up, when I think about S&P options, vol services, how do you guys think about … There’s what’s in front of you that’s on the listed exchanges, but then you don’t know if people are hedging on OTC with the banks or dark pools, et cetera.

Jason Buck:

But do you guys have to almost have that pragmatism, like do you have to just use that S&P vol surface as if that’s the whole marketplace or when you’re looking at that surface? Because you’re just trying to pick out points for buying and selling, but do you worry about what’s not shown on that surface at all, or is it easier to just kind of put blinders on?

Devin Anderson:

I don’t believe that there are, that other execution venues, and the OTC market for S&P options or the CME market for options on futures is materially different than the Cboe SPX cash option surface. Okay?

Devin Anderson:

I don’t think that there are information in any of those things or even that they are different things. And the reason is that risk is so fungible and liquid. I think when you look at the Cboe option surface, that’s a very good representation due to the diversity number of players in size of the eventual thing.

Devin Anderson:

Where people fall down is trying to ascribe the changes of that surface to specific flows, which are not necessarily observable to the sell-side. So, all of the flow, for example, that is captive to retail custodians, and there’s a lot of it, is that the sell-side just doesn’t see because they can’t execute it.

Devin Anderson:

The sell-side just kind of pretends that doesn’t exist. And so you see it in, this year, I’ve read continually that that option, that the option short sellers have stopped. It’s not true. It’s not even close to true.

Devin Anderson:

In fact, I have reason to believe that some of those programs are bigger than they were before. But what happens is like a pocket of the flow gets extrapolated to describe all the flow. So it’s not … I don’t worry about the service being wrong, I worry about the explanations being wrong.

Jason Buck:

Right.

Devin Anderson:

So, just because a couple insurance companies and a couple pension funds have changed their behavior, that doesn’t mean that the aggregate of the flow has changed. Right? And this kind of gets back to your whole thing about managers being confused about, or getting overly influenced about their macro views.

Devin Anderson:

Not to say it isn’t important, you need to think about it, but the number one importance is what are the prices in front of you, right? What’s the market actually telling you? What do you observe in the day changes and are those consistent with the stories that are being told? And sometimes they are, but not always.

Devin Anderson:

And I just ascribe a higher level of skepticism to those stories because I just know that human beings have a really strong bias to want a strong causal explanation for everything because those sell, because we’re social animals that are tr

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