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.