technicalities's Shortform

post by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-01-29T15:46:48.915Z · EA · GW · 25 comments


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comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-01-29T15:46:49.231Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Inspired by Jaime's charming rundown [EA · GW] of his quarterly(!) output, I'll put something up:

In 2021, I

  • led a study of mask-wearing for COVID at the most zoomed-out level (unpicking heavily confounded national epidemiology stats). This was one of the hardest things I've ever done for a few reasons: my first big Bayesian model, my first big journal paper, the worst peer review I've ever seen, the incredibly poor data, taking on a field I've never taken a class in, a mob of hooting trolls on Twitter.
  • This led to me advising the British government on winter covid policy wtf.
  • recovered from 5 months of that by coming out of pandemic mode. I travelled to Estonia, Czechia, Stonehenge, Iceland, and did my first ever trip to the east coast of America. Saw my family for the first time in 2 years.
  • won an Emergent Ventures grant despite my application being fairly deranged
  • got into a conference, my first AI safety paper (a negative result)
  • won a cybercrime hackathon run with the Dutch Serious Crime Unit
  • taught at two amazing maths camps for teenagers. This was probably the single best thing all year.
  • a blogpost from last year blew up and earned me three job offers (Roam, Neuro, CEA?) and an invite to write for Nature. Some people actually in the field adopted and expanded it.
  • started an EA consultancy, Arb, with a friend [EA · GW]. We got three big contracts, and have finished 4 subprojects so far, watch this space.
  • got rejected for an Amazon Research Internship within 4 hours
  • got rejected for the Vitalik AI Safety Fellowship, no reason given.
  • got rejected for the GovAI Summer Fellowship. No reason given, but it might be because my proposal was a little edgy: "Mediocre AI Safety As Existential Risk".
  • couldn't find a venue for our seasonality paper somehow
  • got my first EA grant, to help with executive dysfunction in EA students [EA · GW]
  • made a bunch of friends and was adopted as an Irish neoliberal(?)
  • quit caffeine and booze entirely (from low levels)
  • did a bunch of reviews for the AI Safety Camp. The standard is pretty intense now
  • tried vyvanse and wellbutrin
  • turned off all morning alarms and wake whenever
  • finally got some crypto and ended up 10x in 5 months
  • got a laptop for ~free because Lenovo's website was broken
  • Currently doing 3 months at the FTX EA Bahamas thing and have suspended my PhD. It is pretty amazing.
Replies from: Charles He, casebash
comment by Charles He · 2022-01-29T20:39:19.466Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This seems overwhelmingly awesome, congrats and I hope you are doing great in the Bahamas.

As a small point, and a sincere question,  I'm curious about the "personal framework" or beliefs that led you to stop consuming even low levels of caffeine and alchohol, but at the same time, start or try using the medications you indicated. 

I'm curious because some people I met, who foreswear alcohol and caffeine, would also oppose the personal use of many medications too.

To be clear, I find any combination of abstinence/use of any of those 4 things fine (and not my business unless openly discussed).

Replies from: technicalities
comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-01-29T21:15:21.017Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Charles!

My reasoning about caffeine is here. For common genomes, I expect it to have no chronic cognitive benefit and to harm sleep quality for basically no gain. I think I'm one of those genomes. Nor do I get the pleasure or motivation others seem to. (The same reasoning probably applies to all stimulants.) Might get into fancy loose-leaf tea one day, but just for fun.

No particular reasoning about booze. Certainly not puritanism. The alleged health benefits fell apart (or rather the credibility of the field studying it did), I don't much like it, and luckily my social life doesn't need the help.

When reading up for Off Road I started to wonder if maybe I am mildly ADHD myself. I opted for the House MD method of diagnosis: suck it and see.

Replies from: technicalities
comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-01-29T21:19:10.994Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I should mention that some clever friends of mine try "stimulant cycling" instead of quitting caffeine entirely. This might avoid the downregulation trap.

comment by Chris Leong (casebash) · 2022-01-29T20:59:57.763Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Wow, sounds like an amazing year!

What's the standard for AI Safety Camp these days?

Replies from: technicalities
comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-01-29T21:22:51.435Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I should have said "median" (supply-side: participants just being really good) rather than "standard" (our setting a high bar).

Bunch of ML PhD students and people whose writing I seriously admired before they applied.

This year is interesting cos we tried hard to get non-ML people to join. We've got a pro Continental philosopher coming for instance!

comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-08-17T14:25:06.168Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

So happy to see this new longtermist fellowship running in Kenya.

comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-04-30T11:29:07.698Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

On Frank Ramsey, the first explicit longtermist

Replies from: Pablo_Stafforini
comment by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2022-04-30T16:11:05.875Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I liked your post! But I don't find the claim that Ramsey was the first "explicit" longtermist very plausible

. The quote about discounting being "ethically indefensible and arises merely from the weakness of the imagination" echoes points made earlier by other economists, e.g. Pigou:

Generally speaking, everybody prefers present pleasures or satisfactions of given magnitude to future pleasures or satisfactions of equal magnitude, even when the latter are perfectly certain to occur. But this preference for present pleasures does not -- the idea is self-contradictory -- imply that a present pleasure of given magnitude is any greater than a future pleasure of the same magnitude. It implies only that our telescopic faculty is defective, and that we, therefore, see future pleasures, as it were, on a diminished scale

This is from The Economics of Welfare, published when Ramsey was a teenager, and eight years before the essay in which the quote appears.

Replies from: technicalities
comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-04-30T17:02:16.933Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I was very unclear about what justifies that claim, pardon: 

Ramsey deriving the form of the intertemporal decision and then setting  seems much clearer than Pigou (or Sidgwick, who waved in the direction of the position much earlier than either). 

"First quantitative longtermist"? "First strong longtermist"?

Replies from: Pablo_Stafforini
comment by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2022-04-30T17:36:06.835Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ah, right. Yes, regardless of what we call him, this is undoubtedly a significant milestone in the historical development of longtermism. (I'm not personally comfortable with calling Ramsey or anyone else the "first" [qualification] longtermist because I think longtermism involves multiple claims, not just an endorsement of a zero discount rate, although that claim is clearly a central one.)

I'd love to see more posts exploring early longtermist or proto-longtermist thinking!

comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-09-13T20:07:38.376Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The ladder of EA weirdness

  1. Obligation to the global poor

  2. Obligation to farmed nonhumans

  3. Obligation to wild nonhumans


n. Obligation to potential humans and nonhumans


m. Obligation to take psychedelics / dissolve the self

o. Obligation to electrons


p. Obligation to acausally trade with those outside the light cone

q. Obligation to acausally trade with those elsewhere in the multiverse

r. Obligation to entities somewhere inside the universal prior

comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-08-10T15:14:34.500Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Review of the New Yorker piece. It's a model of its type, for good and ill but mostly good. 

The good: The essence is correct. EA is now powerful enough that public scrutiny is fully justified. Lewis-Kraus engages with the ideas, and skips tabloid cheap shots. (The house style always involves little gossipy comments about fashion and eye colour, but here it's more about scruffy clothing than physical appearance). 

For instance, it's extremely easy to caricature utilitarianism. Certainly many professional philosophers do. But Lewis-Kraus chooses the neutral definition: no cavilling about hedonism, reductionism, Gradgrind, nor very much about honor. Similarly, AI risk is oddly underemphasised, and we all know how easy that is to piss on. 

The hypothesis of MacAskill's bad faith is entertained and rejected. So too with Bernard Williams' quietism: looked at and put back on the shelf. "perhaps one thought too few".

The bad: gossip and false balance. Girlfriends and buildings are named, needlessly, privacy and risk be damned. The dissident's gender is revealed for absolutely no reason. Journalists as a class have an underdeveloped sense of the risks they are exposing people to. The house style demands irrelevant detail, and apparently places style above potential impacts.

I can't help but admire the symbols he picks out of real life, even though they are the nonfiction equivalent of puns or entrail reading:

* Of xrisk research: "an Oxford building that overlooks a graveyard."

* "The room featured a series of ornately carved wooden clocks, all of which displayed contrary times; an apologetic sign read “Clocks undergoing maintenance,” but it was an odd portent for a talk about the future"

* "We passed People’s Park, which had become a tent city, but his eyes flicked toward the horizon."

Some risible bits:

> abandon the world view of the “benevolent capitalist” and, just as Engels worked in a mill to support Marx, to live up to its more thoroughgoing possibilities

Incredible. Engels ran a Manchester cotton mill and inherited a fifth of it; he was a benevolent capitalist!

> the chances of human extinction during the next century stand at about 1–6, or the odds of Russian roulette

That's not how odds work

> It does, in any case, seem convenient that a group of moral philosophers and computer scientists happened to conclude that the people most likely to safeguard humanity’s future are moral philosophers and computer scientists

jfc. If you worry that practitioners of a field are ignoring something, you're a crank and a trespasser. If you worry about the tail risks of your own field, you're suffering from convenient delusions of grandiosity.

The PR suspicion is funny ("Was MacAskill’s gambit with me—the wild swimming in the frigid lake—merely a calculation that it was best to start things off with a showy abdication of the calculus?"). GLK didn't mention any of this in his profile of Rothberg, a businessman with incentives and a presumably similarly sized filter on his speech. But mention consequentialism and suddenly everyone assumes you're a master at acting and a 4D chess player. But he was just primed for it by the dissident so nvm.

> I could see how comforting it was, when everything seemed so awful, to take refuge on the higher plane of millenarianism.

Literally backwards. I find it much more emotionally difficult to contemplate x-risk than terrible but limited events.

But overall GLK is the real deal, as good as magazine writers get. See also him on Paige Harden and Scott Alexander.

comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-06-07T16:18:50.201Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

TIL I learned about the Utilitarian Fandom.

(Derives from old Felicifia, and so I guess Pablo wrote a lot of it.)

comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-05-31T07:59:43.138Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Several absurd things about this video, but we could learn a lot about delivery from it.

I want to save the world and - you know, money - money's great! I can't get enough money. And you know what i'm going to do with it? I'm going to buy wilderness areas with it! 

Every single cent I get goes straight into conservation. And guess what Charles: I don't give a rip whose money it is mate. I'll use it and i'll spend it on buying land.

Passion can make even bullet-biting instrumental harm sound noble and humane. 

(Obviously this is a symmetric weapon.)

comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-03-27T22:01:56.690Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ben Franklin's diary included the daily exhortation to rise and work some "Powerful Goodness". Better name than Effective Altruism tbf.

Replies from: A_lark, Leftism virtue cafe
comment by A_lark · 2022-03-29T02:20:37.301Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Love this!

comment by Leftism virtue cafe · 2022-03-28T04:33:56.544Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

yeh i never like the name 'effective altruism'

comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-08-12T09:33:27.389Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thread for serious AI safety researchers who aren't longtermists



comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-06-30T21:33:02.033Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

"Effective Accelerationism"

(Kent Brockman: I for one welcome our Vile Offspring.)

comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-06-28T11:40:36.220Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

List of important project ideas from Alyssa Vance

Replies from: niplav
comment by niplav · 2022-06-28T11:42:58.808Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The link is broken, I'm afraid.

Replies from: technicalities
comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-06-28T12:31:59.934Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

fixd thanks

comment by Gavin (technicalities) · 2022-03-16T11:14:02.677Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

PlumX is an academic web analytics service, looking at how papers are shared. It's mostly not very good, but they recently added Overton, which specifically scrapes the occasions a paper is cited in policy documents. This seems important!