Posts

2018 AI Alignment Literature Review and Charity Comparison 2018-12-18T04:48:58.945Z · score: 109 (52 votes)
2017 AI Safety Literature Review and Charity Comparison 2017-12-20T21:54:07.419Z · score: 43 (43 votes)
2016 AI Risk Literature Review and Charity Comparison 2016-12-13T04:36:48.060Z · score: 53 (55 votes)
Being a tobacco CEO is not quite as bad as it might seem 2016-01-28T03:59:15.614Z · score: 10 (12 votes)
Permanent Societal Improvements 2015-09-06T01:30:01.596Z · score: 9 (9 votes)
EA Facebook New Member Report 2015-07-26T16:35:54.894Z · score: 11 (11 votes)

Comments

Comment by larks on Forum Update: New Features (September 2019) · 2019-09-17T16:51:03.362Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, these look like some interesting features.

Are there / should there be any social norms re: replying to someone else's shortform? They seem intuitively sort of 'private property' to me.

Comment by larks on The Long-Term Future: An Attitude Survey · 2019-09-17T01:56:11.034Z · score: 43 (15 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for doing this work, and making it public. Similar to Max, I basically believe in the Total View, and am sympathetic to Temporal Cosmopolitanism, so consider this somewhat good news.

However, I am a little skeptical about some of the questions. To the extent you are trying to get at what people 'really' think (if they have real views on such a topic...) I worry that some of questions were phrased in a somewhat biased matter - particularly the ones asking for agreement with the text.

When doing political polling, people generally don't ask questions like this:

Do you agree the government should spend more on law and order?

... because people's level of agreement will be exaggerated. Instead, it's often considered better practice to say phrase it more like:

Which Statement do you agree with more?
1) The government should spend more on law and order, even if it means higher taxes.
2) The government should lower taxes, even if it means less spending on law and order.
Comment by larks on Existential Risk and Economic Growth · 2019-09-17T01:26:21.198Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks very much for writing this, I found it really interesting. I like the way you follow the formalism with many examples.

I have a very simple question, probably due to my misunderstanding - looking at your simulations, you have the fraction of workers and scientists working on consumption going asymptotically to zero, but the terminal growth rate of consumption is positive. Is this a result of consumption economies of scale growing fast enough to offset the decline in worker fraction?

Comment by larks on Cause X Guide · 2019-09-16T01:05:54.203Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

It's also illegal in Turkey and (de jure at least) in China.

Comment by larks on [Link] What opinions do you hold that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of effective altruists? Anonymous form. · 2019-09-16T01:02:09.270Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW
I once even wrote a research proposal on this for the CEA Summer Research Fellowship 2017. I was then invited to the programme.

Could you link to the research by any chance?

Comment by larks on A summary of Nicholas Beckstead’s writing on Bayesian Ethics · 2019-09-12T19:45:42.962Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this, I found it interesting and it significantly increased the likelihood I'd read the original.

Comment by larks on [Solved] Was my post about things you'd be reluctant to express in front of other EAs manually removed from the front page, and if so, why? · 2019-09-12T18:55:39.621Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think it was re-classified as 'Community', which removes it from the front page and puts it in a secondary location. People can still see it but they have to have 'Include Community Posts' ticked, which I think is unchecked by default.

Comment by larks on List of ways in which cost-effectiveness estimates can be misleading · 2019-09-12T03:08:18.657Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this.

Could you give an example of this one, please?

Conflating expected value estimates with effectiveness estimates. There is a difference between a 50% chance to save 10 children, and a 100% chance to save 5 children. Estimates sometimes don’t make a clear distinction.

I understand these are two different things, but am wondering exactly what problems you are seeing this equivocation causing. Is this a risk-aversion issue?

Comment by larks on What opinions that you hold would you be reluctant to express publicly to other EAs? · 2019-09-12T02:28:50.446Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW
I'd guess that saving a fetus would need to be ~100x more important in expectation than saving a farm animal for reducing abortions to be a potential cause area; in an EA framework, what grounds are there for believing that to be true.

There are a lot of EAs who think that human lives are significantly more important than animal lives, and that future lives matter a lot, so this does not seem totally unreasonable.

The most recent piece I read on the subject was this piece from Scott, with two methodologies that suggested one human was worth 320-500 chickens. Having said that, I think he mis-analysed the data slightly - people who selected "I don't think animals have moral value commensurable with the value of a human, and will skip to the end" should have been coded as assigning really high value to humans, not dropped from the analysis. Making this adjustment gives a median estimate of each human being worth just over 1,000 chickens.

Bearing in mind that half of all people have above-median estimates, so it could be very worthwhile for them. Using my alternative coding, the 75th percentile answer was human being worth 999,999,999 chickens. So even though it might not be worthwhile for some EAs, it definitely could be for others.

Comment by larks on Effective Pro Bono Projects · 2019-09-12T01:58:09.408Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW
It depends on your perspective I suppose, and if you think that regulating/taxing anything is paternalistic and believe that everyone is rational, not addicted, truly knows the health effects, etc. then I agree there would be a percentage of the population where consumer surplus would be taken into account and who enjoy smoking (although this population who says they enjoy smoking today may not say that X years later).

I think you might be mistaken on several counts:

1) not all taxes are paternalistic (e.g. pigouvian taxes), but tobacco taxes almost definitely are. wikipedia:

Paternalism is action that limits a person's or group's liberty or autonomy and is intended to promote their own good.

rather, the debate is about whether or not paternalism is justified (in this instance). In both this comment and the grandparent I've implicitly assumed that paternalism can be justified, but you're right that there are libertarian arguments that paternalism is essentially always wrong.

You might also enjoy Robin's recent writing on paternalism, though it doesn't directly bare on this argument; unsurprisingly he concludes it is primarily about status.

2) People don't have to be fully rational for their decisions to have information about welfare. If full rationality were required then no decision ever would satisfy! While it seems clear that humans are not 100% rational, there is still some logic to people's actions. Indeed, models of rational addiction have been around for decades; it is definitely not true to say that addiction invalidates any inference about consumer welfare. See for example Becker and Murphy (1988).

3) 'truly knows the health effects' is again not required. For example, if people had noisy but unbiased estimates of the health impacts, some would over-consume and some would under-consume, and on average, tobacco taxation would not be welfare enhancing. If lack of knowledge is the issue, the appropriate response is to provide the information, not to tax it.

4) Consumer surplus should be taken into account for everyone regardless of whether or not on the whole smoking is optimal. It is an element in the cost-benefit calculation (probably the largest on one side of the equation). It might be larger or smaller for different people, in different circumstances, etc., but that is something that must be estimated and taken into account, not simply ignored.

Comment by larks on Effective Pro Bono Projects · 2019-09-11T14:11:20.203Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Based on a quick read, it doesn't seem like you take into account the consumer surplus from smoking tobacco? This might not be a small factor:

  • Many smokers report enjoying the experience of smoking.
  • Many people choose to smoke despite knowing about the health effects.
  • Newer forms of tobacco consumption, like vaping, have significantly lower health side-effects.

Indeed, few consumer products will look positive if we ignore the consumer surplus they produce.

Comment by larks on Funding chains in the x-risk/AI safety ecosystem · 2019-09-10T16:48:58.756Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Looks like the (joint) longest chain is:

  • Patrick
  • EA Funds
  • BERI
  • Survival and Flourishing
  • FLI
  • CEA
  • AI Safety Camp

I am pleased to see there do not seem to be any cycles!

Comment by larks on Should I give to Our World In Data? · 2019-09-10T12:18:55.458Z · score: 18 (8 votes) · EA · GW
I haven’t seen any EAs (except Steven Pinker) donate or grant here so it might be an overlooked/undervalued opportunity. Besides Pinker and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I didn’t recognize any of the donors on their donor list.

It seems strange to use the fraction of donors who are EAs as a negative signal, holding their total fundraising constant. Surely the information about implicit EA cost-effectiveness estimates is dominates the crowding out effect? In equilibrium this consideration would suggest that EA giving should be equally spread among all groups!

And if this was valid, you might not want EA opinions on the subject. Would you not then equally take persuasive EA arguments for giving there to be a reason to think it is not overlooked/undervalued?

Comment by larks on Consumer preferences for labgrown and plant-based meat · 2019-09-09T22:48:56.946Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW
The result that males prefer plant-based or clean meat is surprising

Perhaps because women have stronger disgust reactions, which might reduce support for artificial meat without reducing support for animal rights.

Comment by larks on Our forthcoming AI Safety book · 2019-09-09T21:56:51.492Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for changing the title; I think this is significantly better.

Comment by larks on Are we living at the most influential time in history? · 2019-09-06T02:17:23.939Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this all up! A few small comments:

And, for the Time of Perils view to really support HoH, it’s not quite enough to show that extinction risk is unusually high; what’s needed is that extinction risk mitigation efforts are unusually cost-effective. So part of the view must be not only that extinction risk is unusually high at this time, but also that longtermist altruists are unusually well-placed to decrease those risks — perhaps because extinction risk reduction is unusually neglected.

It could even be the case that extinction risks were unusually low right now, but this period is nonetheless unusually critical because of the tractability. For example, suppose the main risk to mankind was a asteroid or supervolcanos. Prior to the 20th century, there was little we could do about it - and after the 21st century we will have mature space colonies so it will also no longer be an extinction risk. Only in the interim can we do anything to reduce the probability, by researching the threats, attempting to redirect asteroids, accelerating colonization, and so on.

The primary reasons for believing (2) are that if we’re in a simulation it’s much more likely that the future is short, and that extending our future doesn’t change the total amount of lived experiences (because the simulators will just run some other simulation afterwards), and that we’re missing some crucial consideration around how to act.

I know you mention acausal decision theories elsewhere, but I think it is worthwhile bringing them up here. If we are in an ancestor simulation, it is rational for us to try to reduce existential risk, because this decision is acausally entangled with the decision of the 'original' people, whose existential risk reduction efforts causally lead to the existence of the simulation.

Similarly, I think your prior over our position needs directly address anthropic Doomsday-type arguments.

In contrast, if you are more sympathetic to moral realism (or a more sophisticated form of subjectivism), as I am, then you’ll probably be more sympathetic to the idea that future people will have a better understanding of what’s of value than you do now, and this gives another reason for passing the baton on to future generations.

I think you might be overstating the case here. Suppose you assigned 20% credence to some sort of subjectivist / lovecraftian parochialism that places a high value on our actual values right now, 50% to meta-ethical moral realism and predicted moral progress in the future, and 30% to other (e.g. moral realism but not moral progress). It seems this would suggest a nearly 20% credence in now being a hinge period. In contrast, according to the moral realist theory, now is not an especially important time. So for moral uncertainty reasons we should act as if now is an unusually important period.

even then you might still want to save money in a Victorian-values foundation to grant out at a later date

I suspect unfortunately the money may end up being essentially stolen and used for other purposes. There are many examples of this - a classic one is the Ford Foundation, which now promotes goals quite different from that which Henry Ford wanted.

Comment by larks on What to know before talking with journalists about EA · 2019-09-05T12:35:45.117Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

The link in the second paragraph doesn't work:

If you receive media inquiries, I encourage you to email me or schedule a chat. You can also refer others to me, to this post, or to our full guide: Advice for responding to journalists.

but the link in the final paragraph does:

Please see Advice for responding to journalists for more information about the recommendations we’ve received from media professionals. We hope community members will read it, leave a comment here, and/or contact us with any feedback, questions, or additional recommendations.

Strangely, the two paragraphs also feature different CEA email addresses for Sky.

Comment by larks on Why were people skeptical about RAISE? · 2019-09-05T00:06:57.995Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

My notes from the time suggest I thought the team was inexperienced relative to the difficulty of the project, and that their roadmap was poorly calibrated

Comment by larks on Global basic education as a missing cause priority · 2019-08-21T19:46:16.764Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

If education is good because it promotes autonomy, that is an instrumental value, not an intrinsic one. It would be intrinsically valuable if people said "I care about education even though it doesn't promote autonomy or health or anything else valuable."

You might like to read this SEP article about the difference.

Comment by larks on Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering · 2019-08-21T01:24:22.570Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Interesting article!

It's particularly noteworthy how closely related two of the key events are: the wonders of Birth of Children vs the pain of Childbirth. I wonder if this suggests that targeting childbirth would be particularly effective, as it might 'unlock' a bit more of one of the key pleasures in a way that they other key pains do not. It seems like there might be some low hanging fruit here - in particular there are a lot of medications which have not been tested for use in pregnant women, where a clinical trial might increase women's options. I could see there being cases where it is doesn't make sense for pharma companies to do the trials (because the number of additional patients is small) but would be for us (because these patients matter a lot more, even though they would only pay the same amount for the drug).

Unrelatedly, another reason to expect Death of Father to be over-represented vs Death of Mother is that on average older men marry younger women.

Comment by larks on What's the most effective organisation that deals with mental health as an issue? · 2019-08-19T20:06:10.269Z · score: 12 (9 votes) · EA · GW

You might be interested in Cause Area: Mental Health, a post which won second place in the December forum prize.

Comment by larks on Ask Me Anything! · 2019-08-15T13:37:20.074Z · score: 4 (25 votes) · EA · GW

PlayPumps: overrated or underrated?

Comment by larks on 12 years of education as a missing cause priority · 2019-08-08T18:28:19.825Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Most effective at the current margin!

We can generalise the argument to include other desiderata like neglectedness:

1) EA priorities in expectation maximise some objective function.

2) Relatively few things maximise each objective function, and there are relatively few objective functions.

3) Hence relatively few things will be EA priorities.

Comment by larks on 12 years of education as a missing cause priority · 2019-08-08T09:56:55.875Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I realise this is not exactly the sort of answer you're looking for, but it's worth noting that EA priorities are meant to be in some sense the very most effective interventions in the world, so most things will not be EA priorities. As such I think it makes a lot more sense to place the burden of proof on people to prove that cause is highly effective, rather than on those who do not believe in the cause.

Comment by larks on Leverage Research: reviewing the basic facts · 2019-08-03T16:58:13.338Z · score: 24 (8 votes) · EA · GW
My plan, apart from the post here, was to post something over the next month.

Did you end up posting anything on this subject?

Comment by larks on Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution · 2019-08-03T16:52:47.244Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

This is very interesting, thanks for doing this work.

I would note that members of a cluster headache subreddit are unlikely to be representative of the broader population that generated the 1/1000 figure. Presumably they experience a disproportionately large number of headaches.

Comment by larks on Four practices where EAs ought to course-correct · 2019-08-03T16:43:33.068Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

It seems like a big distinction between the two lies in how quickly they could be rolled out. A pre-WWII database of religion would have taken a long time to create, so pre-emptively not creating one significantly inhibited the Germans, while the US already had the census data so could intern the Japanese. But it doesn't seem likely that not using facial recognition now would make it significantly harder to use later.

Comment by larks on How urgent are extreme climate change risks? · 2019-08-01T12:27:21.179Z · score: 19 (8 votes) · EA · GW

You might enjoy Vox arguing that it is not an existential risk.

Also I would note that there are already many organisations, researchers, engineers, policymakers and lobbyists working on the issue.


Comment by larks on 'Longtermism' · 2019-07-30T22:39:20.210Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

It is not that easy to distinguish between these two theories! Consider three worlds:

  • Sam exists with welfare 20
  • Sam does not exist
  • Sam exists with welfare 30

If you don't value creating positive people, you end up being indifferent between the first and second worlds, and between the second and third worlds... But then by 2), you want to prefer the third to the first, suggesting a violation of transitivity.

Comment by larks on Four practices where EAs ought to course-correct · 2019-07-30T10:56:21.684Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · EA · GW

it's pretty easy for me to minimize or avoid unhealthy foods such as ... fortified cereal

Sorry for the tangent to the main point of the post, but is fortified cereal bad? I had assumed that public health authorities + food companies were adding useful nutrients than most people's diets lacked.

Comment by larks on The EA Holiday Calendar · 2019-07-30T10:44:36.082Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA · GW

This is a cool idea.

Perhaps William Wilberforce's birthday? The abolition of slavery is probably one of the biggest improvements in world history, and has many parallels for contemporary EA issues.

I would consider replacing Contraception Day (which might be good but is not a canonical EA cause, and is at least prima face in conflict with the Total View) with an explicitly somber day (similar to Yom Kippur), like Holocaust Memorial Day, or the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Possibly some space-related day could be a nice optimistic note, like the first man in space, or the moon landing.

You could also have the founding of GWWC.

Comment by larks on 'Longtermism' · 2019-07-26T01:44:38.722Z · score: 41 (23 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this; I thought it was good.

I would wonder if we might consider weakening this a little:

(i) Those who live at future times matter just as much, morally, as those who live today;

Anecdotally, it seems that many people - even people I've spoken to at EA events! - consider future generations to have zero value. Caring any amount about future people at all is already a significant divergence, and I would instinctively say that someone who cared about the indefinite future, but applied a modest discount factor, was also longtermist, in the colloquial-EA sense of the word.

Comment by larks on Age-Weighted Voting · 2019-07-16T03:46:16.379Z · score: 63 (18 votes) · EA · GW

I performed a very cursory literature review on the subject. Overall it seems the psychology research suggests that older people discount the future less than younger people, which might suggest giving their votes more weight.

Usually such a brief perusal of the literature would not give me a huge amount of confidence in the core claims; however in this case the conclusion should seem prima facie very plausible to anyone who has ever met a young boy.

In no particular order:

Age Differences in Temporal Discounting: The Role of Dispositional Affect and Anticipated Emotions:

Advanced age was associated with a lower tendency to discount the future, but this effect reached statistical significance only for the discounting of delayed gains.

Age-Related Changes in Decision Making:

Older adults are not always risk-averse, and their ability to postpone gratification tends to exceed that of younger adults.

Aging and altruism in intertemporal choice:

Research on life span changes in motivation suggests that altruistic motives become stronger with age, but no prior research has examined how altruism affects tolerance for temporal delays. Experiment 1 used a realistic financial decision making task involving choices for gains, losses, and donations. Each decision required an intertemporal choice between a smaller-immediate and a larger-later option. Participants more often chose the larger-later option in the context of donations than in the context of losses; thus, parting with more of their overall capital when the act of doing so benefited a charity. As predicted, the magnitude of this “altruism effect” was amplified in older relative to younger adults. -

Following Advice Because it's Been Paid For: Age, the Sunk-Cost Fallacy, and Loss Aversion:

[Y]ounger adults commit the sunk-cost fallacy more frequently, and make normatively correct decisions less frequently,than older adults when hypothetical sunk costs are at stake ... Younger adults made fewer initial investments of money on the Calorie Estimation Task than older adults. Younger adults demonstrated the sunk-cost fallacy more frequently, overinvested more after demonstrating the fallacy, and made the normatively correct decision less frequently than older adults on the hypothetical self-report measure of the sunk-cost fallacy. Younger adults indicated that they were more averse to hypothetical monetary losses on a Tradeoff Loss Aversion Task and more averse to hypothetical monetary losses on a Delay Discounting Loss Aversion Task. ... Older adults did not demonstrate the sunk-cost fallacy on the Calorie Estimation Task by following more expensive advice more closely than less expensive advice. -

Decision Making in Older Adults: A Comparison of Delay and Probability Discounting Across Ages:

[O]lder adults discounted delayed rewards less steeply than young adult

Acute stress and altruism in younger and older adults:

Even under acute psychosocial stress, older adults make more altruistic choices than younger adults.

Age-related differences in discounting future gains and losses:

Results indicated that impaired older adults discounted the future more than unimpaired older adults. Interestingly, middle-aged adults discounted future gains at a similar rate as impaired older adults, but discounted future losses less than impaired older adults (and similarly to unimpaired older adults).

Age‐related differences in delay discounting: Immediate reward, reward magnitude, and social influence:

Younger adults exhibited higher levels of delay discounting than older adults.

The only evidence I've found that older people might discount more was a Chinese study. I'm not sure why Chinese people would be different in this regard, though obviously their culture is different in many ways - or, the paper might just be wrong.

Age differences in delay discounting in Chinese adults:

The current study aimed to clarify this relationship using a relatively large sample of Chinese adults with a wide age range (viz., 18 to 86 years old). A total of1288 individuals completed the Monetary Choice Questionnaire. Results showed that the rate of delay discounting increased with age across adulthood, with younger participants (18–30 years) discounting lessthan both middle-aged participants (31–60 years) and older participants (over 60 years); and middle-aged participants discounting less than older participants. Furthermore, when the reward magnitude was large, participants were more likely to wait for delayed rewards.
Comment by larks on Age-Weighted Voting · 2019-07-15T03:28:05.453Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · EA · GW
In the UK’s European Union membership referendum, the voting pattern was heavily correlated with age: older people were much more likely to vote to leave the EU than younger people. My current (poorly informed) understanding is that, in terms of the correlation between age and conservatism, both aging itself and cohort effects play a role. If the latter is significant in this case, this suggests that, in twenty years’ time, most of Britain’s electorate will be in favour of being part of the EU. If so, then a huge amount of time and effort will have been wasted in the transition costs of leaving and rejoining.

First of all I think using live political examples like this is not a great idea.

It also seems possible to me (though I am less certain) that the 'older people are rightfully more sceptical of official cost estimates' alternative theory I described in this comment might apply here. One of the key arguments against Brexit was that it would lead to a high degree of short-term disruption, due to uncertainty, disruptions to supply chains, and a loss of export markets on the continent. In contrast, many of the benefits, like protection from further institutional decline in the EU, were longer-term.

Yet after the fact it is worth noting that many of the anti-Brexit forecasts for immediate large negative consequences have been proved wrong, at least so far. For example the Treasury forecast that unemployment would rise by 520,000 after a Leave vote, whereas in actual fact the UK labour market has improved significantly since then.

There's also a big difference between wanting to Remain and wanting to Rejoin later on:

  • Once the UK has left, the transition issues will be sunk costs - indeed transition costs will become a reason to not rejoin!
  • Status quo bias will switch to supporting independence.
  • The outside view also suggests the UK would want to remain independent, as the other independent western european countries like Norway, Iceland and Switzerland have become if anything less likely to join now than they were in the past (see for example here and here).
  • This also seems to be the case in the UK - for example, the idea of joining the Euro, despite being supported by the Conservative Party in 1990 and Tony Blair later, has been totally discredited even among Remain supporters.

So overall I don't think Brexit-related temporal inconsistency is a great reason to support increasing the weight on younger voters.

Comment by larks on Age-Weighted Voting · 2019-07-15T03:02:39.452Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW
However, empirically there’s evidence that generations tend to vote in their self-interest when it comes to issues that have different costs and benefits across time. Here’s Gabriel Ahlfeldt summing up some results from a recent paper
“[O]lder voters are less likely to support measures that protect the environment, promote sustainable use of energy or improve transport. Older voters are also less likely to support expenditures on education or welfare policies, such as unemployment benefits, but they are more likely to support expenditures on health systems. The reasons for these tendencies can be different in every category. But it is difficult to find a singular explanation other than generational self-interest, which would explain why older voters tend to be generally less supportive of expenditures that benefit other generations and projects that have positive expected effects in the long run, but costs in the short run. It fits the bill that where it is harder to think of generational-specific interests such as on questions related to animal protection, women’s rights or urban development, there is also no evidence of a generation gap.”

I don't think this is a very fair summary. Taking the environmental example, for example, older people are more supportive of nuclear power:

From the whole model in Table2, we know that five sociodemographic variables show a significant impact on the acceptance of nuclear power. Age and education have a positive impact on acceptance, whereas gender, social class, and residence have a negative impact on it. As people become older, they reveal more positive attitude toward nuclear power. Such an older-age effect confirmed the research findings by Slovic et al. [8]. Enlightenment from education increases support for nuclear power. According to Kim et al. [16], higher education brings out more acceptance. - Comparative Analysis of Public Attitudes toward Nuclear Power Energy across 27 European Countries by Applying the Multilevel Model

Yet being pro-nuclear power seems like the more long-termist solution. Nuclear power stations are very expensive, and cost billion of dollars to create, but once built they can generate electricity very cheaply and reliably for a very long time - and with essentially no carbon emissions. The relative opposition of young people suggests that either older people are not voting in a more short-sighted fashion, or that the inexperience of young people outweighs this effect.

Similarly, lets look at the core case study that Ahlfeldt et al. discuss: Stuttgart's new train station. They find that older people tended to vote against the transit investment, and suggest this is because old people wouldn't be alive for as long to reap the benefits.

However, they omit to mention that, like many large government projects, the project ended up running dramatically over-budget and behind schedule:

According to newly released official calculations, the total costs for the Stuttgart 21 railway station could reach EUR 8.2 billion, twice as high as the estimate of EUR 4.5 billion presented at the start of the project. The increase was driven by higher building costs due to a booming German construction industry and tight domestic labor market, problems concerning the building site, and a desire by the management of Deutsche Bahn to create a financial buffer against the risk of future price increases. The new figures released were based on an assessment by the accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) and the engineering company Emch+Berger.
Additionally, the completion date of the project was pushed back for a fifth time to 2025, four years later than originally anticipated. (source)

It seems reasonable to think that older voters would have developed a sense of suspicion over time about upfront estimates - an intuitive sense of planning fallacy, and problems with the political process. With the benefit of these more accurate views, it would be rational for them to be more likely to reject the project; the problem lies in the naïvety of the young voters.

The authors seem to have considered a similar idea... but strangely assume that experience could only make one more in favour of large projects:

Experience with similar projects in the past combined with a sense of morale could theoretically imply that the likelihood of support could increase with age,if the project is perceived as socially desirable.

What's more, that age brings wisdom should have been an obvious hypothesis, as if you look at the controls in their tables, you'll see that higher levels of education also lead to opposition to the project (assuming I read the table correctly; the authors conveniently did not describe this result in the text). So basically they found that both more educated and more experienced people opposed the project, a project that did indeed fall short of expectations, and yet attributed this to selfishness instead!

Comment by larks on Debrief: "cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics" · 2019-07-15T00:59:33.768Z · score: 46 (20 votes) · EA · GW

First of all, thanks for running this - I think prizes are a great idea - and congratulations to the winners!

I somewhat disagree with your take here however:

I was surprised by the rapidity of submitted arguments – four hours after announcing the prize, there were six submitted arguments (including the winning argument).
None of these engaged with the pro-psychedelic arguments I made in the main post, instead they appeared to be arguing generally against psychedelics being a promising area.
I'm chalking this up to a "cached arguments" dynamic – people seem to have quick takes about topics stored somewhere in memory, and when asked about a topic, the immediate impulse is to deliver the pre-stored quick take (rather than engaging with the new material being presented).
If this is true, it's a hurdle on the road to good discourse. To have a productive disagreement, both parties need to "clear out their cache" before they can actually hear what the counterparty is saying.

You asked for the best arguments against psychedelics, not for counter-arguments to your specific arguments in favour, so this doesn't seem that surprising. Probably if you had specifically asked for counter-arguments, as opposed to merely saying they were there to 'seed discussion', people would have interacted with them more.

Comment by larks on Age-Weighted Voting · 2019-07-14T20:03:15.767Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this! I found it very interesting, and certainly far above most EA posts about politics.

18-27yr olds: 6x voting weight
28-37yr olds: 5x voting weight
38-47yr olds: 4x voting weight
48-57yr olds: 3x voting weight
58-67yr olds: 2x voting weight
68+yr olds: 1x voting weight

One effect of this is to create a big discontinuity at 18 years, out of all proportion to the marginal increase in knowledge and wisdom. One option would be to have the peak later, as a rough sum of the knowledge curve and the incentive curve, e.g.:

18-27yr olds: 1x voting weight
28-37yr olds: 2x voting weight
38-47yr olds: 3x voting weight
48-57yr olds: 3x voting weight
58-67yr olds: 2x voting weight
68+yr olds: 1x voting weight

An alternative fix would be to give parents of minor children extra votes. This would aim to exploit the fact that parents typically exhibit really high levels of altruism towards their children, so arguably actually have longer-term horizons than childless 18yr olds despite lower life expectancy. We see this behaviour in voting through parents apparent obsession with good schools and safety for their children. So we might have something like:

0-7yr olds: parents +4 votes each
8-17yr olds: parents +3 votes each
18-27yr olds: 6x voting weight
28-37yr olds: 5x voting weight
38-47yr olds: 4x voting weight
48-57yr olds: 3x voting weight
58-67yr olds: 2x voting weight
68+yr olds: 1x voting weight
Comment by larks on Age-Weighted Voting · 2019-07-12T16:42:51.153Z · score: 15 (9 votes) · EA · GW

Yes - hence the standard pair of arguments:

The young people who will have to live with the consequences of Brexit voted to Remain.

vs

The older people with actual experience of living outside the EU voted to Leave.
Comment by larks on Seeking EAs to Interview on Career Change Resources · 2019-07-12T11:59:09.061Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Could you explain how this relates to 80k's content? My impression was that a lot of material was aimed at college students, which seems like 'the earlier stages of a career change'.

Comment by larks on Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks (C-GCRs) · 2019-07-08T02:41:07.481Z · score: 24 (12 votes) · EA · GW

Overall I thought this was a weak article. In many cases the reasoning seems to be ignorant of simple economics. Below I point out several issues; others I omitted in a vain attempt at brevity.

Corporate Growth

Incentives create strong selective pressure for corporations to grow (e.g. because they benefit from economies of scale).

It is definitely true that there are incentives for firms to grow up the their efficient size. However, equally there are incentives not to grow further, and many companies are around these levels - for a little background on the theory see for example wikipedia. Certainly, when I was an equity analyst, when news one of my companies had just announced an acquisition crossed the tape, I'd expect the share price to be down on the news - whereas if they announced a spin-off, I'd expect the stock to be up!

Revenues of the Fortune 500 increased from 58% to 73% of US GDP

This is very misleading.

We can see this by noting that, rather perversely, one of your proposed policies would actually increase corporate revenue as a % of GDP. Why? By breaking up vertically integrated companies, we would add a new layer of transactions that would be counted as revenue despite having no additional economic substance. If I have a solar panel factory and an installation business, no revenue is recorded when the panels move from the factory to the installation trucks, only when they go to the end customers. If you split my company into two, we now record revenue twice, despite no fundamental change - illustrating why this is a silly metric. It is more appropriate to compare profits to GDP, or revenue to gross transactions.

People more commonly look at S&P profits as a % of GDP, which is better, but still not great. You mention as an aside that this is partly due to international revenues, but without noting how this undermines the point. Over the last few decades we have seen considerable globalisation, as US companies have expanded into overseas markets, so this ratio would have increased even if the compositition of the domestic US economy remained totally unchanged.

One of the first lessons one learns in accounting analysis is that ratios have to make economic sense - the numerator and denominator have to refer to the same thing - which is not the case here. Instead we should be comparing domestic profits to GDP.

Why compare corporate revenue to state tax revenue?

One of the key parts of the argument is that we can meaningfully compare corporate revenue to state tax revenue as a measure of power. However the justification for this in the article is very weak:

Recently, researchers have proposed that states’ “budgets” (tax revenues) and corporations’ “budgets” (revenues minus their profits) are comparable in that they are crude, but useful proxies for their power (despite corporations and states spending on different things).

How do this random PhD student researchers justify this approach?

For this purpose, we compare the revenues of states (mainly taxes collected) with the revenues of corporations, as suggested by Jeffrey Harrod, who argued that we should see revenues (minus profits) as a “budget” of firms in analogy to governments.6767 Harrod, “The Century of the Corporation”.View all notes Admittedly, this is a crude proxy for power or influence, nonetheless it is instructive to juxtapose the financial scale of states and corporations directly. (link)

That's right - they basically just posit it. There is no actual justification for assuming that a company with revenues of $100bn is more powerful than a state with taxes of $90bn.

It makes sense that there is no justification - because the statement is clearly absurd. Consider the example from the article: comparing the Australian State to Walmart, the latter of which is supposedly more powerful.

    • Australia has a powerful military, including ten frigates, two destroyers and six submarines. Their air force has over 100 combat planes, and they have 30,000 active soldiers in the military. Using this they have participated in a number of wars. In contrast, to my knowledge Walmart has zero frigates, zero destroyers, zero submarines, and zero combat planes.
    • In the event of a war, furthermore, the Australian government might be able to introduce conscription, dramatically increasing their manpower. Walmart is unlikely to be able to do so as they have no such legal authority.
    • With the benefit of these weapons, the Australian government is able to achieve a great deal. For example, they are able to force almost every single Australian to pay them taxes. In contrast, Walmart is reliant on people voluntarily giving them money, has to offer merchandise in return, and is unable to imprison people who refuse. Speaking of which, the Australian government has around 40,000 people in prison - Walmart conspicuously lacks its own prison system. Even in cases where someone directly steals from them, Walmart is forced to rely on the assistance of the US government to deal with the situation.
    • Finally, the Australian state is able to effectively bar large groups of people from entering its territory on the basis of their nationality, potentially imprisoning them for long periods on remote islands to achieve this. In contrast, Walmart's ability to prevent peaceful people from entering its stores is extremely limited.

This article, however, rather than interrogating the claim that corporate revenues can be directly compared to state taxes, instead accepts it completely. In the space of a few short paragraphs we move from proposing it as an interesting idea to accepting it as the basis for claims like:

71 out of the 100 most powerful actors are corporations

And some of the claims made in this section are simply bizarre. For example,

"Shell’s revenue/budget to sell fossil fuels is $272bn"

Where does this number come from? I checked their 2018 numbers on bloomberg and got revenue of $388bn. More importantly, revenue is not at all the same thing as 'budget to sell fossil fuels'. That would be part of SG&A, which is obviously much smaller - around $11bn. Instead, most of their revenue is spent buying physical inputs for e.g. their refining business.

Or take this one:

For instance, Apple spends >$1bn/year on marketing. Lobbying budgets could increase to a similar level.

According to OpenSecrets, the largest US corporate spender on lobbying in 2018 was Alphabet (Google), spending just under $23m. It is technically true that their budget could increase to over a billion; however, this would require a >33,000% increase.

Or this claim:

In contrast, state power is curtailed by mandatory and entitlement spending taking up an increasing share of their budgets (e.g. >70% in the US).

This spending is not really mandatory at all - if states did not want to give out benefits there is no requirement for them to do so. We know this is true because there have been many powerful states that spent very little on benefits. If states are weakened by entitlement spending, it is because they choose to do so.

In contrast, corporations have to spend the vast majority of their revenue on raw resources, salaries etc. in order to produce the goods and services they sell. Buying potatoes is not optional for McDonalds!

Do corporations cause exponentially larger externalities over time?

This sections seems like a random grab-bag of complaints with a lack of model-based thinking. In particular, there doesn't seem to be any reason to think that externalities grow exponentially, except that corporates (and the economy as a whole) grow exponentially. The difference between externalities growing exponentially relative to corporate size, and externalities remaining fixed relative to corporate size, might seem like a trivial point, but one of the proposed 'solutions' - to break up large corporations - actually ends up resting on this confusion.

Firstly we should note that the citations mentioned do not actually support the article's point:

There is no consensus amongst economists on whether governments should regulate the size of big corporations more generally (e.g. through preventing M&A or breaking them up).[62],[63]

The linked polls discuss specific government interventions in specific cases, as is standard in the antitrust literature, not general regulation of corporate size. I am not aware of any credible economists who believe in a carte blanche restriction on the size of corporations. I have literally never heard any economist suggest a policy which would restrict companies that have grown organically due to economies of scale and good execution, like Netflix or Apple.

But more importantly, breaking large corporates up into smaller pieces would only reduce externalities if those externalities were super-linear in corporate size. This doesn't seem to be the case however - if you split up corporation with two factories, you still have two companies with one factory each, producing just as much pollution in total. (They might even produce slightly more as smaller firms are often slower to adopt new technologies).

The article might also have benefited from discussion of the track records of non-capitalist systems, like the pointless slaughter caused by the soviet whale quota system. The article mentions Fukushima... but not Chernobyl, despite the latter being an example of much worse behaviour. Similarly, it blames corporates for obesity, but does not mention the difficulties communist states had in avoiding mass starvation. Nor at these problems only in socialist countries - for example, even in the US privately-run power plants are cleaner than those run by the government:

Our empirical subjects are public and private entities’ compliance with the U.S. Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. We find that, compared with private firms, governments violate these laws significantly more frequently and are less likely to be penalized for violations.

It is not possible to reduce corporate power in a vacuum - the proposed solutions largely instead transfer it to governments. But given that, even according to the bizarre revenue=tax methodology adopted, states were still more powerful than their corporations, this would mean concentrating more power in the most powerful entities. Entities which in the past have repeatedly brought mankind to the brink of nuclear war - an externality far greater than that of any mere corporation.


Comment by larks on Optimizing Activities Fairs · 2019-07-02T03:22:28.460Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Great article! Glad to hear you're doing well. To think I thought we were being aggressive getting 3 tables back in 2012!

Two more tips I found helpful:

  • If you can, have a term card printed out to give people. Ideal place for a couple of paragraphs about EA and a list of all your events for the term.
  • Pre-fill the signup sheet with your own names and emails, because an empty list makes you look unpopular, and no-one wants to join an unpopular club.
  • Practice speaking the pitch out loud a couple of times beforehand. It's likely that you'll gravitate towards a slightly different wording, which should become very natural.
  • I spent a lot of the time in front (and slightly to the side) of the table, which was much better for intercepting people. This did annoy the fair staff, but not quite enough to incur any actual sanction. However, this might matter less if you can totally dominate with 6 tables!
  • Usually I think diversity stuff is nonsense, but I did try to ensure there was always one girl and one guy on the stall, which I agree is very helpful in this case.
  • Slightly older guys might want to shave.
  • Smile! While exhausting, this can be a very fun experience.
Comment by larks on Needed EA-related Articles on the English Wikipedia · 2019-06-27T20:53:57.312Z · score: 19 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Interesting list. I know some people and organisations (which I am obviously not going to name) prefer not to have Wikipedia pages - is it possible that some of the above groups might fall into this category?

Comment by larks on [Link] A shift in arguments for AI risk · 2019-06-27T20:53:30.518Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Meta: It might be helpful to have a feature to automatically link linkposts to the relevant page on LW, if the article had previously been linkposted there.

In this case there wasn't much discussion anyway, though this post and comments also seem very relevant.




Comment by larks on "Moral Bias and Corrective Practices" and the possibility of an ongoing moral catastrophe · 2019-06-27T03:27:47.064Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks very much for sharing this. I actually expected to like it a lot - it's an issue I think about a lot - but ended up being quite unsatisfied.

Historians are often criticised for drawing quite general conclusions from relatively sparse data. For example, I recall reading Seeing Like a State and being concerned that he was drawing conclusions from what seemed like a mere handful of data points, even if new and interesting ones. Or recently I read the recent BIS report on the impact of bank capital requirements on financial crises and growth, and was concerned about the relatively small sample set these conclusions were being based on - even though this data spanned many countries and over a hundred years.

But in this case, Anderson is drawing ridiculously strong conclusions from one single data point - a somewhat biased account of the end of slavery in a single country. There is no recognition that other issues in other geographies and other points in time played out rather differently - even examples as proximate as the history of slavery in England and the Empire. Despite this, she presents her conclusions as being a necessary law of history:

Stronger methods are needed to counteract the biases induced by social power. My case study of a society-wide change in moral belief, from proslavery to abolitionist, focused on two such methods. First, contentious politics—active, practical, mass resistance to the moral claims embodied in social institutions enforced by and catering to the powerful—is needed to activate genuine practical reasoning across all levels of society. The powerful won’t really listen to reason—that is, to claims from below—until they no longer have the power to routinely enforce their desires. Second, the subordinated and oppressed must actively participate in that contention. [emphasis added]

It's also the case that, if her views are true, this is very bad news. A key part of EA is promoting the welfare of groups with no voice, like animals or the as-yet-unborn. Groups that we have concluded deserve consideration, not because of activism by these groups, but by considering our moral intuitions. If the only way of improving the treatment of a group is for that group to practice 'mass resistance' then it is literally impossible for animal rights to ever improve, or the rights of children, or future generations. Fortunately, the fact that we do have animal welfare laws, and child welfare laws, and environmental laws, and so on, suggests that she is indeed wrong.

She seems to miss that moral deliberation and reflective equilibrium have a vital advantage: they are asymmetric weapons, that cut more readily against falsehood, while tending to give succor to the truth. Indeed, they are at the core of the EA project.

In contrast, she presents a very dystopian world, where there is little true moral debate - or if there is, it is of little consequence. All there seems to be is a struggle between powerful groups and almost-as-powerful groups. There is no great tendency here for the arc of history to bend towards justice - just leaders telling the masses that they have been oppressed by a cruel minority and need to rise, which history has shown to be a harbinger of tyranny at least as often as of liberation.

Comment by larks on EA Mental Health Survey: Results and Analysis. · 2019-06-22T18:40:37.278Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA · GW

One person reported missing 150 hours of work due to mental health problems, which if true would put them as the third most productive person in the entire sample, at 75 hours / week. It seems plausible to me that this person instead misestimated their latent productivity, and I wonder if this might be true for other people. Perhaps in the absence of mental illness they would have come up with some other reason/excuse to attribute their lack of productivity.

Comment by larks on Melbourne University Effective Altruism Study · 2019-06-14T20:57:01.431Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Some of the questions seem somewhat geography specific - I suspect different moral intuitions may be at play depending on the nationality of the respondent for indexical reasons. You might want to consider customizing the prompts based on IP address or similar. (Deliberately vague to avoid spoilers).

Comment by larks on Could the crowdfunder to prosecute Boris Johnson be a high impact donation opportunity? · 2019-06-08T19:45:14.761Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Just a few days after this post was made, the lawsuit was thrown out by the high court as politically motivated and vexatious. Apparently the activist who brought the lawsuit spent more than he raised, so it seems that the marginal donation is basically just a cash transfer to him.


Comment by larks on [Link] Book Review: The Secret Of Our Success | Slate Star Codex · 2019-06-06T21:49:38.239Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · EA · GW

See also this follow-up for extended quotes:

https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/06/05/list-of-passages-i-highlighted-in-my-copy-of-the-secret-of-our-success/

In 1971, the anthropologist David Boyd was living in the New Guinea village of Irakia, and observed intergroup competition via prestige-biased group transmission. Concerned about their low prestige and weak pig production, the senior men of Irakia convened a series of meetings to determine how to improve their situation. Numerous suggestions were proposed for raising their pig production but after a long process of consensus building the senior men of the village decided to follow a suggestion made by a prestigious clan-leader who proposed that they “must follow the Fore’” and adopt their pig-related husbandry practices, rituals, and other institutions. The Fore’ were a large and successful ethnic group in the region, who were renowned for their pig production. The following practices, beliefs, rules, and goals were copied from the Fore’, and announced at the next general meeting of the community:
1) All villagers must sing, dance and play flutes for their pigs. This ritual causes the pigs to grow faster and bigger. At feasts, the pigs should be fed first from the oven. People are fed second.
2) Pigs should not be killed for breaking into another’s garden. The pig’s owner must assist the owner of the garden in repairing the fence. Disputes will be resolved following the dispute resolution procedure used among the Fore’.
3) Sending pigs to other villages is tabooed, except for the official festival feast.
4) Women should take better care of the pigs, and feed them more food. To find extra time for this, women should spend less time gossiping.
5) Men must plant more sweet potatoes for the women to feed to the pigs, and should not depart for wage labor in distant towns until the pigs have grown to a certain size.
The first two items were implemented immediately at a ritual feast. David stayed in the village long enough to verify that the villagers did adopt the other practices, and that their pig production did increase in the short term, though unfortunately we don’t know what happened in the long-run.
Comment by larks on Could the crowdfunder to prosecute Boris Johnson be a high impact donation opportunity? · 2019-06-06T01:27:11.557Z · score: 25 (8 votes) · EA · GW
It’s not really about Brexit, it’s about honesty in politics.

I think this is a little naive. There are many examples of politicians lying - picking just one is a clear example of political bias. If they want this to be about honesty, they should simultaneously prosecute a leader Conservative and Labour politician, or Leave and Remain- even if they think the suit against Boris is the most likely to succeed. I think the fact that they're called 'Brexit Justice' makes their motivations pretty unambiguous.

But even with an idealised case that was non-partisan, the issue at stake isn't truth vs lies but who gets to determine what is acceptable to say. If they win, they will establish a precedent that it is illegal for opponents of the government to say things that the state holds to be lies. Even if the current government only used this for good purposes, there is no guarantee that a future one would. History is full of examples of governments suppressing 'lies' that turned out to be the truth.

Comment by larks on 2018 AI Alignment Literature Review and Charity Comparison · 2019-05-30T21:22:18.320Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

You're welcome! And thanks, fixed.