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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

Mar 26, 2022

On this episode of Unsupervised Learning Razib welcomes back Samo Burja, a guest who needs no introduction for long-time listeners. Burja is the podcast’s first third-time guest, and with good reason. Previously, he came on to discuss social technology and China and lost civilizations, plumbing the depths of the human past for insights about the present and future. Today Burja spotlights a timely new venture of his firm, Bismark Analysis: the Bismarck Brief newsletter, which provides a taste of the sort of “deep-dive” analyses Bujra provides clients (Drone Adoption Favors Quantity Over Quality In WarfareThe German Retreat From Nuclear Power and Modern Russia Can Fight And Win Land Wars). 

He discusses the analytic model undergirding the Bismarck Brief, the idea of “live players,” individuals and institutions that can innovate and direct actions in surprising and novel ways, and “dead players,” who tend to operate in a rote manner following predictable scripts, and struggle to meet new challenges. A new start-up in a phase of expansion is a live player, disrupting the marketplace and transforming the notion of what is possible, like Google in 2000. In contrast, Google in 2022 is arguably a dead player, squeezing massive profits out of its capture of online advertising via search, but no longer transforming any sector of the economy.

The remainder of the episode shifts to the details of Burja’s analytic process, and his thoughts at the time in February 2022 (when the episode was pre-recorded) on the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the earlier performance of Russian military forces in Syria and elsewhere. Razib and Samo touch on the geopolitical consequences of Europe’s energy dependence upon Russia, and its distortionary impact on German foreign policy.

Because this episode was recorded before the Russian invasion that began on February 24th, 2022, Razib has circled back with Burja to record a bonus mini-episode tackling recent developments. That episode covers what the Russian invasion and the Western response might mean for the global order in the 21st century.