Posts

Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? 2020-06-03T19:08:10.413Z · score: 78 (45 votes)
2019 AI Alignment Literature Review and Charity Comparison 2019-12-19T02:58:58.884Z · score: 143 (49 votes)
2018 AI Alignment Literature Review and Charity Comparison 2018-12-18T04:48:58.945Z · score: 115 (55 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 Max_Daniel's Shortform · 2020-08-06T18:38:12.132Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Hey, yes - I would count that nuclear disarmament breakthrough as being equal to the sum of those annual world-saving instances. So you're right that the number of events isn't fixed, but their measure (as in the % of the future of humanity saved) is bounded.

Comment by larks on Max_Daniel's Shortform · 2020-08-06T03:48:57.691Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Interesting post. I think I have a couple of thoughts, please forgive the uneditted nature.

One issue is whether more than one person can get credit for the same event. If this is the case, then both the climber girl and the parents can get credit for her surviving the climb (after all, both their actions were sufficient). Similarly, both we and the future people can get credit for saving the world.

If not, then only one person can get the credit for every instance of world saving. Either we can harvest them now, or we can leave them for other people to get. But the latter strategy involves the risk that they will remain unharvested, leading to a reduction in the total quantity of creditworthiness mankind accrues. So from the point of view of an impartial maximiser of humanity's creditworthiness, we should seize as many as we can, leaving as little as possible for the future.

Secondly, as a new parent I see the appeal of the invisible robots of deliverance! I am keen to let the sproglet explore and stake out her own achievements, but I don't think she loses much when I keep her from dying. She can get plenty of moral achievement from ascending to new heights, even if I have sealed off the depths.

Finally, there is of course the numerical consideration that even if facing a 1% risk of extinction carried some inherent moral glory, it would also reduce the value of all subsequent things by 1% (in expectation). Unless you think the benefit from our children, rather than us, overcoming that risk is large compared to the total value of the future of humanity, it seems like we should probably deny them it.

Comment by larks on Should local EA groups support political causes? · 2020-07-28T16:43:33.170Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Supporting alcohol prohibition also seems like it might have accompanied the woman's suffrage.

Comment by larks on Delegate a forecast · 2020-07-27T13:30:29.635Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I am a US Green card holder with a US Citizen wife and infant daughter. If we travel to the UK for Christmas, how likely is it I will be allowed back in to the US in January?

How likely are we to catch coronavirus on the flight? (Daughter is too young to wear a mask).

edit: just realised you wanted estimates of continuous variables; sorry!

Comment by larks on Should local EA groups support political causes? · 2020-07-23T02:42:03.616Z · score: 9 (7 votes) · EA · GW
while it's not something that EAs have a lot of research on

While I understand why this is a tempting and conflict-avoiding thing to say, (and is also literally true!), I think it would be a little disingenuous. The lack of EA research into many potential causes isn't simply an accident; research has been directed into areas that seem especially promising to the researcher (i.e. not just Important but also Neglected and Tractable, and ideally Quantifiable also). Given the natural sympathies of many EAs towards left-wing movements, I think it is reasonable to say that the reason EAs haven't published a lot of research into BLM as a cause area is because they generally don't expect it would look attractive - and I think the same is true for HK protests to a lesser degree.

Or you could link Hong Kong democracy protests to political stability and reducing great power conflict, etc.

Assuming the other students are in favour of the HK protests, I'm not sure this is such a great approach. In general protests are not good for stability! The HK movement, by drawing attention to China's authoritarianism, seem to have increased conflict between the West and China - the US is currently introducing various new anti-CCP measures for example. Similarly the BLM protests in the US seem quite destabilising - to the extent that they literally received funding from the US's geopolitical opponents. It's of course possible that something could be destabilising and good, but that is a different argument.

Unfortunately I think there is just not that much in common between EA and causes which seem neither neglected nor tractable. Overall I think Khorton's approach is best; individual EAs are of course free to have non-EA interests, but focusing on the most important issues, rather than being caught up in contemporary issues that get a lot of attention for non-EA reasons, is a key part of the distinctive value proposition of the movement.

Comment by larks on High stakes instrumentalism and billionaire philanthropy · 2020-07-19T23:56:42.945Z · score: 15 (10 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this. I like articles that showcase examples were academic research we might be unaware of is important to an issue we care about.

Comment by larks on Evidence on good forecasting practices from the Good Judgment Project: an accompanying blog post · 2020-07-15T19:18:15.237Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · EA · GW

It always seemed strange to me that the idea was expressed as 'rounding'. Replacing a 50.4% with 50% seems relatively innocuous to me; replacing 0.6% with 1% - or worse, 0.4% with 0% - seems like a very different thing altogether!

Comment by larks on A love letter to civilian OSINT, and possibilities as a tool in EA · 2020-07-15T13:45:01.021Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Awesome article, really informative, thanks!

I was reminded of it a little by this recent article, saying that almost half of all criminal cases brought for the online grooming of children in the UK were the result of organised groups of ordinary people gathering evidence.

Comment by larks on New member--essential reading and unwritten rules? · 2020-07-13T18:07:41.681Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Welcome! And congratulations on your achievements, which I'm sure you are more responsible for than modesty would allow you to acknowledge.

Comment by larks on Maximizing the Long-Run Returns of Forced Retirement Savings · 2020-07-08T03:59:09.283Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

My understanding is the committees generally make rules for the indices, and then apply them relatively mechanistically, though they do occasionally change the rules. I think it is hard to totally get rid of this. You need some way to judge that a company's market cap is actually representative of market trading, as opposed to being manipulated by insiders (like LFIN was). Presumably if the index committee changed it to something absurd the regulator could change their index provider for the next year's bidding, though you are at risk of small changes that do not meet the threshold for firing.

As a minor technical note gross returns often are (very slightly) higher than the index's, because the managers can profit from stock lending. This is what allows zero-fee ETFs (though they are also somewhat a marketing ploy).

Comment by larks on Maximizing the Long-Run Returns of Forced Retirement Savings · 2020-07-07T15:53:06.126Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Ahhh, so basically the idea is that no underwriter would be willing to vouch for anything but a credible index shop. Seems plausible.

Comment by larks on Maximizing the Long-Run Returns of Forced Retirement Savings · 2020-07-07T14:24:28.475Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I think this is a neat idea.

However, I think it might have problem with the fiscal limits of the asset managers; there is a reason that even hedge funds with sophisticated clients do not structure themselves this way. At the moment most asset managers do not have very large balance sheets - even Blackrock, the largest in the world, only has $5bn of cash, and a market cap of 85bn. If the winning fund under-performed the second bid by 0.5%, they would face a 15bn loss - or, more likely, they would go bankrupt and the pensioners would bear the loss. Even if you divided the funds up between multiple managers the total capitalisation of the industry is not that large, and the winning bids would disproportionately be submitted by low-capitalisation funds that wanted a free call-option. This gives managers an asymmetric payoff curve that encourages them to take a lot of risk.

To solve this you could try regulating the asset managers, but at that point you have basically re-invented insurance companies, and they would not be able to take much risk.

Another possible solution would be to implement very harsh penalties for the individual managers. But I think it would be difficult to calibrate these penalties well, and might make it hard to attract talent.

Comment by larks on Concern, and hope · 2020-07-07T02:20:18.304Z · score: 31 (13 votes) · EA · GW
On one side, we've had multiple posts talking about the risks of an incipient new Cultural Revolution; on the other, we've had someone accuse a widely-admired writer associated with the movement of abetting some pretty abhorrent worldviews.

I'm not sure what contrast you are trying to make here:

  • The first post argues that, while SJ cancellations are a problem, we should not fight back against them because it would be too expensive. The second post agrees that SJ cancellations are a problem that could become much worse, but argues we should try to do something about it.
  • The third post is an example of an attempted SJ cancellation, criticizing the community for being insufficiently zealous in condemning the outgroup. (It was downvoted into oblivion for being dishonest and nasty).

The first two are motivated by concern over the rise of bullying and its ability to intimidate people from communicating honestly about important issues, and discuss what we should do in response. The third article is... an example of this bad behaviour?

For the symmetry argument you want to make, it seems like you would need a right-wing version of the third post - like an article condemning the community for not doing enough to distance itself from communists and failing to constantly re-iterate its support for the police. Then it would make sense to point out that, despite the conflict, both sides were earnestly motivated by a desire to make the world a better place and avoid bad outcomes, and we should all remember this and respect each other.

But to my knowledge, no such article exists, partly because there are very few right-wing EAs. Rather, the conflict is between the core EA movement of largely centre-left people who endorse traditional enlightenment values of debate, empiricism and universalism, vs the rise of extreme-left 'woke' culture, which frequently rejects such ideals. Accusing the moderate left of being crypto-fascists is one of the standard rhetorical moves the far-left uses against the centre-left, and one they are very vulnerable to.


Note that I removed the link to the attack article because I think it is probably a violation of implicit forum norms to promote content with more than 100 net downvotes. If it hadn't been linked in this article I would not have come across it, which is probably desirable from the perspective of the moderators and the community.


Edit: the OP was edited between when I opened the page and starting writing this comment, and when I hit publish; at the request of the author I have updated the quote to reflect his edits, though I think this makes the comment a little harder to understand.

Comment by larks on Estimating the Philanthropic Discount Rate · 2020-07-06T21:15:27.634Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Great post, thanks very much for writing.

Such events do not existentially threaten one's financial position, so they should not be considered as part of the expropriation rate for our purposes.

Could you give some sense for why you think this is the case? Naively I would have thought that a double chance of getting half your assets expropriated would be approximately as bad as losing all of them. There will be diminishing marginal utility, but surely not enough to totally neglect this issue.

According to Sandberg (n.d.)[13], nations have a 0.5% annual probability of ceasing to exist. Most institutions don't last as long as nations, but an institution that's designed to be long-lasting might outlast its sovereign country. So perhaps we could infer an institutional failure rate of somewhere around 0.5%.

This seems like an upper bound for what we care about. Many countries and institutions that have existed for centuries have done so at the cost of wholesale change in their values. The 21st century catholic church promotes quite different things than it did in the 11th century, and the US federal government of 2020 doesn't have that much in common with the articles of confederation.

Similarly, organizations that avoid value drift will tend to gain power over time relative to those that don't.

I'm not sure this is true in the sense you need it to be. Consider evolution - we haven't seen species that have low rates of change (like sharks) come to dominate the world. They have gained power relative to proto-mammals (as the latter no longer exist) but have lost power relative to the descendants of those proto-mammals. Similarly, a human organisation that resisted memetic pressure remained true to its values will find itself competing with other organisations that do not have to pay the value-integrity costs, despite outlasting its rivals of yesteryear.

Comment by larks on How to Fix Private Prisons and Immigration · 2020-07-04T01:04:20.638Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

That's really interesting - do you have any recommended reading on the UK system?

Comment by larks on EA Forum feature suggestion thread · 2020-07-01T12:32:38.743Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Changing the raw totals sounds confusing, but you could implement some form of regularisation in ranking contexts - for example karma relative to total karma across all posts for that month.

It is a little strange that if I go to an old post I upvoted, un-upvote, and then re-upvote, its karma increases I think.

Comment by larks on EA is vetting-constrained · 2020-06-30T02:14:25.567Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · EA · GW
Importantly, I suspect it'd be bad for the world if we lowered our bar, though unfortunately I don't think I want to or easily can articulate why I think that now. 

Do you think it is bad that other pools of EA capital exist, with perhaps lower thresholds, who presumably sometimes fund things that OP has deliberately passed on?

Comment by larks on Study results: The most convincing argument for effective donations · 2020-06-30T02:11:23.615Z · score: 15 (6 votes) · EA · GW
Chris McVey, Josh May, and I had several times tried and failed to write arguments that would be effective in increasing participants' donation rates. When we presented participants emotionally moving narratives about children who had been rescued by charitable donations, charitable donations were higher than in a control condition -- but never when we presented ordinary philosophical arguments that donation is good or is your duty. ... We wondered whether the failure might just be the result of our inability to write convincing arguments.

[E]ach of the five selected arguments was viewed by about 335 participants, while 471 participants viewed the middle school science text. The results were clear: All five of the arguments substantially outperformed the control condition.

Presumably the theory is that philosophical argument can(not) increase donations, and it sounds like they had a randomised control in the form of an unrelated text.

Comment by larks on EA could benefit from a general-purpose nonprofit entity that offers donor-advised funds and fiscal sponsorship · 2020-06-28T15:40:50.891Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Isn't this what CEA was created to do - provide central services like accounting and tax registration for smaller EA (though they weren't called 'EA' in those days) organisations in order to benefit from economies of scale?

Comment by larks on EA Forum feature suggestion thread · 2020-06-26T15:31:41.726Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

If I am on the main page, it might be nice if center-clicking on the 'Show Previous Comment' button opened that comment tree in a new tab. At the moment you can center-click the date to open a comment in a new tab, and then separately need to click 'Show Previous Comment'.

Comment by larks on How to Fix Private Prisons and Immigration · 2020-06-23T17:02:52.317Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW
Has anyone else (politicians, researchers, etc.) ever argued for a system resembling this one?

Robin Hanson has written about similar ideas:

For every immigrant that we admit, the government could track how much that person pays in taxes each year, and also how much the government spends on that person via benefits whose costs can be measured individually. We could probably assign individual costs for schools, Medicare and Medicaid, prison, etc. For types of costs or benefits that can’t be measured individually, we’d could attribute to each immigrant some average value across citizens of their location and demographic type. When there are doubts, let us err in the direction of estimating higher costs, so that our measures are biased against immigrants adding value.
Okay, so now we have a conservative net financial value number for each immigrant for each year, a number that can be positive or negative. From these numbers we can create financial assets that pay annual dividends proportional to these numbers. If we let many people trade such assets, their market prices should give us decent estimates of the current present financial value of this stream of future revenue. And if we allow trading in such assets regarding people who apply to immigrate, with those trades being conditional on that person being admitted and coming, then such prices would estimate the net financial value of an immigration candidate conditional on their immigrating.
We could then admit the candidates for whom such estimates are highest; using a high threshold could ensure a high confidence that each immigrant is a net financial advantage. Those who are skeptical about particular immigrants, or about immigration in general, could insure themselves against bad immigration choices via trades in these markets, trades from which they expect to profit if their skepticism is accurate.
Comment by larks on AI Benefits Post 1: Introducing “AI Benefits” · 2020-06-22T20:17:22.655Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW
The essential idea of AI Benefits is simple: AI Benefits means AI applications that are good for humanity.
...
Thus, for the rest of this series I will be focusing on the subset of AI Benefits that individuals could receive other than what markets would likely provide by default by actors not motivated by social benefit.

If non-market AI Benefits are a strict subset of AI Benefits, a phrase which essentially just means 'good things from AI' then this is not true by definition:

[B]y definition markets will generally not provide AI Benefits

Indeed, given the scale and efficiency of market production compared to philanthropy it is possible that markets might produce the vast majority of AI benefits.

Comment by larks on Off-Earth Governance · 2020-06-16T04:24:01.750Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I'm not optimistic about our ability to influence the distant future in this regard (absent a Singleton), because it seems to me there will be two phases, both with strong but very distinct instrumental pressures for norm convergence.

Initially, space colonisation will be extremely dependant on earth. Earth will be the only source of many raw resources, livestock, manufactured goods, scientific expertise and human capital. Distant travel will be performed by robots, not people, who will be fully controlled from earth. Colonies might be economic through mineral export, but self-sufficiency would at best mean impoverishment and at worst be simply impossible. Even when colonies became more advanced, they could not hope to rival the military capacity of earth. This will naturally encourage a highly centralised form of governance, where key decisions are made on earth, and status is determined by the terrestrial social system.

Eventually however, humans will settle over vast distances, and the description above is reversed. With the colonisation of other habitable planets and construction of vast space stations, there will be rival sources for essentially all goods. Furthermore, speed of light limitations mean that most trade will be impossible, and also most warfare, reducing the ability of earth to influence outer systems in either direction. As such it seems that extreme decentralisation will be the natural form of governance.

... unless the central power in the first stage can prevent this from occurring, by securing their control prior to the second stage, perhaps using cryptographic weapon locks.

Comment by larks on How to Fix Private Prisons and Immigration · 2020-06-16T03:57:19.491Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks very much for writing this! I have always thought this was a great idea, and a huge mistake that reformists focus on abolishing private prisons, rather than using them. With privatisation you get what you pay for, and at the moment we pay for volume.

Minor note: you define CrimesBob as

the maximum amount that we (as a society) would spend to prevent it. Thus, since we do not have infinite money, equivalent compensation for the nonmonetary effects of a crime must always exist (CrimesBob).

However, might it be better to define it as the minimum amount we would have to be paid in order to release someone? If someone is expected to cause spectacularly large amounts of disutility, we should want them to stay in prison even if we can't spend more than total GDP on it.

I should have included the opportunity costs of prisons and society at the beginning of the proof.

You still can!

Comment by larks on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-11T19:26:26.685Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Good question!

I think of there being basically three extreme possibilities:

  • Really low R0
    • We successfully suppress the disease after the protests. As such, while protest-driven infections are a larger percentage of the total, the total number is much smaller, so it doesn't really matter very much. This is basically the R0 = 0.7 case I mentioned.
  • High R0, no vaccine in time
    • Basically everyone gets the disease. As such the protests and other re-opennings have limited direct impact on the number of cases, as you mention. The impact is largely limited to accelerating this, with some effect on hospital capacity and less time to learn about better treatments.
  • High R0, mass vaccination in medium term
    • The number of cases keeps growing, then suddenly falls when a vaccination is rolled out. In this case, accelerating the spread is basically the same as delaying the vaccination. Because of the nature of exponential growth, the majority of cases will be just before mass vaccination, so this leads to a dramatic increase in the total number of deaths. (This might be slightly offset by the fact that a higher incidence makes it easier to do clinical trials on vaccines, but I would expect this effect to be small).

In the modelling I assumed an R0 < 1, which is basically a less-extreme version of the first scenario.

Comment by larks on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-06T03:52:44.128Z · score: 94 (40 votes) · EA · GW

I think this is the wrong question.

The point of lockdown is that for many people it is individually rational to break the lockdown - you can see your family, go to work, or have a small wedding ceremony with little risk and large benefits - but this imposes external costs on other people. As more and more people break lockdown, these costs get higher and higher, so we need a way to persuade people to stay inside - to make them consider not only the risks to themselves, but also the risks they are imposing on other people. We solve this with a combination of social stigma and legal sanctions.

The issue is exactly the same with ideologies. To environmentalists, preventing climate change is more important than covid. To pro-life people, preventing over half a million innocent deaths every year is more important than covid. To animal rights activists, ending factory farming is more important than covid. To anti-lockdown activists, preventing mass business failure and a depression is more important than covid. But collectively we are all better off if everyone stops holding protests for now.

The correct question is "is it good if I, and everyone else who thinks their reason is as good as I think this one is, breaks the lockdown?" Failure to consider this, as it appears most people have, is to grossly privilege this one cause over others and defect in this iterated prisoners dilemma - and the tragic consequence will be many deaths.

Comment by larks on The EA Hotel is now the Centre for Enabling EA Learning & Research (CEEALAR) · 2020-06-05T16:10:56.028Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · EA · GW
I'm not sure CEEALAR is pronounceable. I don't think it's pleasing.

I actually think 'sea-ah-lar' is quite nice sounding, perhaps a distant cousin of Fëanor.

Comment by larks on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-05T12:11:52.728Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Hey, thanks for this. Do you have any good data on the super-spreader events, and how to adjust for inside/outside? I agree that 'you' in a general sense can, but unfortunately this doesn't mean that 'I' specifically can!

Comment by larks on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-04T02:35:18.705Z · score: 19 (13 votes) · EA · GW

I think many of those examples would fall under their other categories like "Most Businesses Suspended" or "School Closure". Things like 'beach closures' do not, but population density on beaches tends to be much lower than at protests (at least of the beaches I have been to).

Additionally, I worry that the protests might reduce other forms of social distancing. Imagine you are a moderate conservative, who had to cancel your son's graduation and your daughter's wedding, and hasn't been able to go to confession for months. You wanted to go back to work, but all the experts told you that it was too dangerous, even though you knew you'd be careful. They even stopped you playing golf - you weren't even allowed to do a couple of rounds by yourself, standing by yourself in the middle of the green! Now all of a sudden these so-called experts are joining the hippies in a chaotic screaming looting protest, with nary a six foot gap to be seen. How likely is it that you will trust them again?

Comment by larks on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-04T02:20:43.383Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I was thinking about the outside issue. It seems in general this is quite protective, presumably because the wind blows the droplets away, rather than their being recycled in a largely air-tight room. But for a sufficiently large protest, presumably the wind is blowing them away... onto another part of the protest! So I worry that this factor will be less protective here.

Great explanation of the scaling issues, good way of thinking about it.

A protest near me had six foot markings on the ground to give each individual protester their own box... which was then ignored in practice.

Comment by larks on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-04T02:03:22.538Z · score: 8 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for your comment! I actually discussed the maths of this a bit in person, but omitted it from the article for simplicities sake, and because I don't think it affects the conclusion much; it is essentially another causal channel by which the protests could increase transmission.

I am sceptical that total transmission-once-arrested cases will be anywhere close to transmission-on-streets. For the period they are arrested they'll be in close quarters, so it's definitely true that that is bad, though the total number of people they interact with will presumably go down, which will be a positive. But most importantly I expect only a very small fraction of protesters to be arrested. Indeed at some protests not a single person has been arrested! Furthermore, I expect that anyone reading this article (or anyone being influenced by someone who has read this article) is significantly less likely than average to be arrested, so it is at least less relevant from the point of view of their personal decision making.

I sort of see your point about the game theory, but I am sceptical that "the police will have to treat me nicely because otherwise I will get coronavirus" will work in practice. Similarly, I don't recommend trying deterrence with the IRS, or the SEC, or many other US government agencies; they have quite credible pre-commitments to ignoring your threat.

Comment by larks on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-03T21:30:41.283Z · score: 15 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, good comment!

I spent a while trying to estimate the r0 in this way, thinking about the dynamics of protests. In the end I couldn't really come up with much confidence as any level of at-protest-r0; in particular it wasn't obvious why it couldn't be much higher, given the loud close contact between a very large number of people. It certainly seems plausible to me that an infected person could easily pass within one meter of a very large number of people. When I try to visualise the number of talking people I spent time close to pre-Covid, vs the number I would be close to at a busy protest, it doesn't seem implausible to me that the latter could be orders of magnitude higher. But I don't have any data on this so it is rather speculative!

Comment by larks on EA Organization Updates: April 2020 · 2020-05-19T23:42:17.256Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Huh, my bad, seems fine now.

Comment by larks on What's the big deal about hypersonic missiles? · 2020-05-19T23:27:59.739Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Defence isn't necessarily stabilising! A working missile defence system degrades your opponent's second strike capabilities.

Comment by larks on EA Organization Updates: April 2020 · 2020-05-19T20:20:10.643Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Broken for me also in Firefox, Chrome and Brave.

Comment by larks on New data suggests the ‘leaders’’ priorities represent the core of the community · 2020-05-12T19:10:32.015Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Nice post. I have always thought this was a problem with the argument - so much so that when I read your opening paragraphs I found myself getting annoyed that you were rehashing it and not considering the obvious objection... the obvious objection which was in fact the entire purpose of the post.

Comment by larks on How to vote in Shareholder Meeting proxy votes · 2020-05-07T20:53:55.860Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, good comment!

Comment by larks on How to vote in Shareholder Meeting proxy votes · 2020-05-03T01:28:28.969Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I'm sorry to say this, but unless your "substantial sum" is many billions of dollars, or hundreds of millions invested in a small number of firms (i.e. not in mutual funds), voting is likely largely be a waste of your time. It might be worthwhile for you to estimate what % of the vote you have in a typical company - my guess is it is very small. Worse, unlike in a political election where both sides tend to be roughly equally balanced, and hence the marginal voter can make a difference, as a first approximation pretty much all shareholder votes come in two flavours:

  • Management recommended things, which are usually very sensible - sometimes necessary for the continuation of the business!) All the professional investors will support these so they will pass with >90% of the vote.
  • Motions proposed by cranks with little understanding of the business. These are regarded as an annoyance, and all the professionals will vote against, so they will fail with <10% of the vote.

Obviously there are exceptions (notably, activist hedge funds!) but I would expect these two cases to cover the vast majority of the proxy solicitations you receive.

For reference, I worked for a fund that invested billions of dollars, was one of the top shareholders in many companies we owned, and I regularly met with CEOs... but I think our ability to influence their strategy was very minimal. I can only think of one time where I think there is a >1% chance I had an impact.

Comment by larks on Racial Demographics at Longtermist Organizations · 2020-05-02T05:21:14.796Z · score: 56 (56 votes) · EA · GW
Funders who value diversity should communicate this priority to the organizations they support or are considering supporting, particularly large funders who can influence organizational direction.

As a donor I would like to make clear that I do not place any value on diversity. Furthermore, given the enormous stakes I think it would be a mistake for even donors and organisations who do value diversity as a terminal value to dedicate resources to this instead of focusing on their core mission.

Nor do I think there are likely to be significant instrumental benefits. You suggest the biggest issue is missing out on talent and viewpoints:

Their high degree of racial homogeneity suggests these organizations have been missing out on talented employees and alternative perspectives

Yet each of these organisations is very small; likely they are all missing out on a vast number of good candidates, so focusing on one narrow aspect of this seems like privileging the hypothesis. If we are concerned about incorporating a variety of perspectives, this is an issue that can be addressed directly, by hiring people with different academic backgrounds, different world views and different ideologies. It is a well known fact that conservatives are massively under-represented in EA organisations for example, despite the immediate policy relevance. In contrast, hiring someone because of their race, and hoping this will mean they have specific views, seems like a very oblique way of doing so.

Furthermore, there are significant disadvantages to attempting to socially engineer a racial breakdown. Most obvious is the pressure to achieve racist hiring goals over competence, leading to token minorities on the teams. There is evidence that technology investors are biased against white entrepreneurs (see here for example) - indeed I personally experienced being told that we couldn't hire the best candidate because they were a white male and we had hit our diversity quota - and I would not like to see the same happening here.

Comment by larks on Racial Demographics at Longtermist Organizations · 2020-05-02T05:16:40.704Z · score: 55 (29 votes) · EA · GW
If a Chinese think tank, funded by a founder of Tencent (or Huawei, etc.), convened a consortium of AI practitioners & policy wonks (almost all of whom were racially & nationally Chinese), and this consortium produced recommendations on how to distribute the benefits of AI for the common good, what would the EA community think of that work?

It is totally to be expected for a Chinese think tank to be primarily made of Chinese people, and I would both hope and expect the EA community would engage rationally and logically with their arguments and positions, rather than dismissing or discounting them because of their race.

Comment by larks on How can I apply person-affecting views to Effective Altruism? · 2020-04-29T15:51:40.193Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

It would be interesting if person-affecting arguments lead one to pass on reducing abortion, because while you care about currently existing babies, by the time any intervention you might support today will have any effect, they will have already been born or not, and hence too late to help. There will be a new cohort in need of help, of course, but you don't care about them until they're conceived, so won't be interested in working to help them now.

More generally, you would neglect any intervention that only affects people under the age of X if it will take longer than X years to implement the intervention.

However, if such an initiative was started by longtermists, person-affecting-view-ists might join it half way through. This suggests an interesting way for longtermists to leverage* the help of people with person-affecting views! (It is possible you might think it was immoral to exploit their temporal inconsistency in this way however).

Comment by larks on How can I apply person-affecting views to Effective Altruism? · 2020-04-29T15:41:08.012Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · EA · GW
However, it's not very neglected, and the evidence suggests that increased access to contraceptives, not restricted access to abortion services, is driving the decline in abortion rates in the U.S.

The linked opinion piece asserts that abortion regulations are not responsible for the improvement, but doesn't seem to provide any evidence to back it up?

I am not that familiar with the literature, but it would seem prima facie rather implausible to me that making something illegal wouldn't help reduce its prevalence. If statistics suggest the US decline is being driven by other policies, I would guess this is because the restrictions that have been put in place are quite weak - abortion-for-convenience remains legal in all 50 states, and even a your state did impose some limitation, they cannot stop someone travelling to an unregulated state. However, a quick google suggests that some academic research does find that the restrictions that have been put in place have helped reduce the rate. Additionally, it seems that the number of abortions in Ireland has gone up significantly since their law change, even taking into account people travelling to the UK, so presumably reversing that change would help reduce the number. This also fits with my impression of what has happened in other many countries when they banned/unbanned abortion.

I totally agree that reducing miscarriage rates could be very interesting. Are you aware of any tractable interventions? I had a little look a few years ago but did not find anything very satisfactory.

Comment by larks on Leaders support global truce to turn fire on coronavirus · 2020-04-17T02:43:26.823Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

For those without paywall access: which war are they suggesting a truce for?

Comment by larks on Hiring Process and Takeaways from Fish Welfare Initiative · 2020-04-13T12:56:23.654Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

You could still compensate them! I'm sure they would appreciate your reaching out with retrospective compensation, although obviously the signalling value to this set of applicants would be lost.

Comment by larks on Assumptions about the far future and cause priority · 2020-04-08T01:24:01.140Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW
Interesting view. It seems to me like it makes sense, but I also feel like it'd be valuable for it to be fleshed out and critiqued further to see how solid it is. (Perhaps this has already been done somewhere - I do feel like I've heard vaguely similar arguments here and there.)

Thanks! I'm not sure if I made it up or not. I will try to find some time to write more about it.

Comment by larks on Large EA House in Berkeley is looking for new housemates · 2020-04-03T17:39:43.126Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Perhaps you might want to share your quarantine strategy? I can imagine that being important to people right now.

Comment by larks on What are the key ongoing debates in EA? · 2020-03-12T02:01:28.545Z · score: 23 (8 votes) · EA · GW
I'm sure we can quibble about how the "Mental Health" should map to the "Psychedelics" category, though it seems clear that psychedelics are one of the most promising developments in mental health in the last few decades (breakthrough therapy designation from the FDA and all that).
If we assume half of the above considered psychedelics to be in the mental health bucket ...

This does not seem like a quibble to me at all. It seems 'clear' to you but this is by no means the case for most people. I would happily bet that well under half of those people were thinking psychedelics when they said mental health.

Comment by larks on Empathy and compassion toward other species decrease with evolutionary divergence time · 2020-02-26T19:20:12.320Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing, this was very interesting.

Comment by larks on FHI Report: The Windfall Clause: Distributing the Benefits of AI for the Common Good · 2020-02-16T23:24:46.670Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW
B.2. “The Windfall Clause will shift investment to competitive non-signatory firms.”

The concern here is that, when multiple firms are competing for windfall profits, a firm bound by the Clause will be at a competitive disadvantage because unbound firms could offer higher returns on new capital. That is, investors would prefer firms that are not subject to a “tax” on their profits in the form of the Windfall Clause. This is especially bad because it could mean that more prosocial firms (i.e., ones that have signed the Clause) would be at a disadvantage to non-signatory firms, making a prosocial “winner” of an AI development race less likely.238

This is a valid concern which warrants careful consideration. Our current best model for how to address this is that the Clause could commit (or at least allow for the option of) distributions of equity,* instead of cash. This could either take the form of stock options or contingent convertible bonds. This avoids the concern identified by allowing firms to, for example, issue new, preferred shares which would have superior claim to windfall profits compared to donees. This significantly diminishes the concern that the Clause would dilute the value of new shares issued in the company and allows the bound firm to raise capital unencumbered by debt owed under the Clause.† Notably, firm management would still have fiduciary duties towards stock-holding windfall donees.

I agree that the problem (that investors will prefer to invest in non-signatories, and hence it will reduce the likelihood of pro-social firms winning, if pro-social firms are more likely to sign) does seem like a credible issue. I found the description of the proposed solution rather confusing however. Given that I worked as an equity analyst for five years, I would be surprised if many other readers could understand it!

Here are my thoughts on a couple of possible versions of what you might be getting at- apologies if you actually intended something else altogether.

1) The clause will allow the company to make the required payments in stock rather than cash.

Unfortunately this doesn't really make much difference, because it is very easy for companies to alter this balance themselves. Consider that a company which had to make a $1 billion cash payment could fund this by issuing $1 billion worth of stock; conversely a company which had to issue stock to the fund could neutralise the effect on their share count by paying cash to buy back $1 billion worth of ordinary shares. This is the same reason why dividends are essentially identical to share buybacks.

2) The clause will allow subsequent financing to be raised that is senior to the windfall clause claim, and thus still attractive to investors.

'Senior' does not mean 'better' - it simply means that you have priority in the event of bankruptcy. However, the clause is already junior to all other obligations (because a bankrupt firm will be making ~0% of GDP in profit and hence have no clause obligations), so this doesn't really seem like it makes much difference. The issue is dilution in scenarios when the company does well, which is when the most junior claims (typically common equity, but in this case actually the clause) perform best.

The fundamental reason these two approaches will not work is that the value of an investment is determined by the net present value of future cashflows (and their probability distribution). Given that the clause is intended to have a fixed impact on these flows (as laid out in II.A.2), the impact on firm valuation is also rather fixed, and there is relatively little that clever financial engineering can do about it.

3) The clause will have claim only to profits attributable to the existing shares at the time of the signing on. Any subsequent equity will have a claim on profits unencumbered by the clause. For example, if a company with 80 shares signs on to the clause, then issues 10 more shares to the market, the maximum % of profits that would be owed is 50%*80/(80+10) = 44.4%

This would indeed avoid most of the problems in attracting new capital (save only the fear that a management team willing to screw over their previous investors will do so to you in the future, which is something investors think about a lot).

However, it would also largely undermine the clause by being easy to evade due to the fungibility of capital. Consider a new startup, founded by three guys in a basement, that signs the clause. Over the next few years they will raise many rounds of VC, eventually giving up the majority of the company, all excluded from the clause. Additionally, they pay themselves and employees in stock or stock options, which are also exempt from the clause. Eventually they IPO, having successfully diluted the clause-affected shares to ~1%. In order to finish the job, they then issue some additional new equity and use the proceeds to buy back the original shares.


One interesting point on the other side, however, is the curious tendency for tech investors to ignore dilution. Many companies will exclude stock-based-comp from their adjusted earnings, and analysts/investors are often willing to go along with this, saying "oh but it's a non-cash expense". Furthermore, SBC is excluded from Free Cash Flow, which is the preferred metric for many tech investors. So it is possible that (for a while) investors would simply ignore it.

Comment by larks on FHI Report: The Windfall Clause: Distributing the Benefits of AI for the Common Good · 2020-02-15T03:25:08.787Z · score: 20 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks very much for sharing this. It is nice to see some innovative thinking around AI governance.

I have a bunch of different thoughts, so I'll break them over multiple comments. This one mainly concerns the incentive effects.

> C.2. “The Windfall Clause operates like a progressive corporate income tax, and the ideal corporate income tax rate is 0%.”

> Some commentators argue that the ideal corporate tax rate is 0%. One common argument for this is that corporate income tax is not as progressive as its proponents think because corporate income is ultimately destined for shareholders, some of whom are wealthy, but many of whom are not. Better, then, to tax those wealthy shareholders more directly and let corporate profits flow less impeded to poorer ones. Additionally, current corporate taxes appear to burden both shareholders and, to a lesser extent, workers."

I think this is a bit of a strawman. While it is true that many people don't understand tax incidence and falsely assume the burden falls entirely on shareholders rather than workers and consumers, the main argument for the optimality of a 0% corporate tax rate is Chamley-Judd (see for example here) and related results. (There are some informal descriptions of the result here and here.) The argument is about disincentives to invest reducing long-run growth and thereby making everyone poorer, not a short-term distributional effect. (The standard counter-argument to Chamley Judd, as far as I know, is to effectively apply lots of temporal discounting, but this is not available to longtermist EAs).

This is sort of covered in B.1., but I do not think the responses are very persuasive. The main response is rather glib:

Further, by capping firm obligations at 50% of marginal profits, the Clause leaves room for innovation to be invested in even at incredibly high profit levels.231

There are a lot desirable investments which would be rendered uneconomic. The fact that some investment will continue at a reduced level does not mean that missing out on the other forgone projects is not a great cost! For example, a 20% pre-tax return on investment for a moderately risky project is highly attractive - but after ~25% corporate taxes and ~50% windfall clause, this is a mere 5% return* - almost definitely below their cost of capital, and hence society will probably miss out on the benefits. Citation 231, which seems like it should be doing most of the work here, instead references a passing comment in a pop-sci book about individual taxes:

There's also an argument that a big part of the very high earnings of many 'superstars' are also rents. These questions turn on whether most professional athletes, CEOs, media personalities, or rock stars are genuinely motivated by the absolute level of their compensation verses the relative compensation, their fame, or their intrinsic love of their work.

But corporations are much less motivated by fame and love of their work than individuals, so this does not seem very relevant, and furthermore it does not address the inter-temporal issue which is the main objection to corporation taxes.

I also think the sub-responses are unsatisfying. You mention that the clause will be voluntary:

> Firstly, we expect firms to agree to the Clause only if it is largely in their self-interest

But this does not mean it won't reduce incentives to innovate. Firms can rationally take actions that reduce their future innovation (e.g. selling off an innovative but risky division for a good price). A firm might voluntarily sign up now, when the expected cost is low, but then see their incentives dramatically curtailed later, when the cost is large. Furthermore, firms can voluntarily but irrationally reduce their incentives to innovate - for example a CEO might sign up for the clause because he personally got a lot of positive press for doing so, even at the cost of the firm.

Additionally, by publicising this idea you are changing the landscape - a firm which might have seen no reason to sign up might now feel pressured to do so after a public campaign, even though their submission is 'voluntary'.

The report then goes on to discuss externalities:

> Secondly, unbridled incentives to innovate are not necessarily always good, particularly when many of the potential downsides of that innovation are externalized in the form of public harms. The Windfall Clause attempts to internalize some of these externalities to the signatory, which hopefully contributes to steering innovation incentives in ways that minimize these negative externalities and compensate their bearers.

Here you approvingly cite Seb's paper, but I do not think it supports your point at all. Firms have both positive and negative externalities, and causing them to internalise them requires tailored solutions - e.g. a carbon tax. 'Being very profitable' is not a negative externality, so a tax on profits is not an effective way of minimising negative externalities. Similarly, the Malicious Use paper is mainly about specific bad use cases, rather than size qua size being undesirable. Moreover, size has little to do with Seb's argument, which is about estimating the costs of specific research proposals when applying for grants.

Finally, one must consider that under windfall scenarios the gains from innovation are already substantial, suggesting that globally it is more important to focus on distribution of gains than incentivizing additional innovation.

I strongly disagree with this non-sequitur. The fact that we have achieved some level of material success now doesn't mean that the future opportunity isn't very large. Again, Chamley-Judd is the classic result in the space, suggesting that it is never appropriate to tax investment for distributional purposes - if the latter must be done, it should be done with individual-level consumption/income taxation. This should be especially clear to EAs who are aware of the astronomical waste of potentially forgoing or delaying growth.

Elsewhere in the document you do hint at another response - namely that by adopting the clause, companies will help avoid future taxation (though I am sceptical):

> A Windfall Clause could build goodwill among the public, dampening harmful public antagonism for a small (expected) cost. Governments may be less likely to excessively tax or expropriate firms committed to providing a public good through the Windfall Clause.

and

> However, from a public and employee relations perspective, the Clause may be more appealing than taxation because the Clause is a cooperative, proactive, and supererogatory action. So, to the extent that the Windfall Clause merely replaces taxation, the Windfall Clause confers reputational benefits onto the signatory at no additional cos

However, it seems that the document equivocates on whether or not the clause is to reduce taxes, as elsewhere in the document you deny this:

> the Windfall Clause is not intended to be a substitute for taxation schemes. We also note that, as a private contract, the Windfall Clause cannot supersede taxation. Thus, if a state wants to tax the windfall, the Clause is not intended to stop it. Indeed, taxation efforts that broadly align with the goals and design principles of the Windfall Clause are highly desirable

\* for clarity of exposition I am assuming the donation is not tax deductible, but the point is not dramatically altered if it is.