Comment by larks on Age-Weighted Voting · 2019-07-16T03:46:16.379Z · score: 54 (14 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: 44 (18 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: 14 (8 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.


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: 19 (11 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: 10 (6 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:

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.

Comment by larks on There's Lots More To Do · 2019-05-30T01:16:56.077Z · score: 15 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Do you mean the number of opportunities in the future, or the ability to donate larger amounts of money right now? We could do:

What is the most dollars you would be willing to donate in order to save the life of a randomly chosen human? Assume this is the only opportunity you'll ever get to save a life by donating - all other money you have must be spent on yourself and your family.

and also the endowment effect reversal:

If offered a choice between saving a random stranger's life and an amount of money, what is the smallest number of dollars you would have to be offered to choose that option? Assume you will only be offered this once, and do not have any opportunities to spend or donate money to save other people.

Your version seems good too, though I would worry that introducing the temporal element and background of progress might bias things in some way.

Comment by larks on There's Lots More To Do · 2019-05-29T23:46:53.095Z · score: 18 (9 votes) · EA · GW
He's setting a threshold of $5k for how much we'd be willing to pay to avert a death, which is much too low. I do agree there is some threshold at which you'd be very reasonable to stop trying to help others and just do what makes you happy. Where this threshold is depends on many things, especially how well-off you are, but I would expect it to be more in the $100k range than the $5k range for rich-country effective altruists.

It would be interesting to see some data on this. Maybe the EA survey could ask something about it? Something like:

What is the most you would be willing to spend in order to save the life of a randomly chosen human? Assume that AMF and other charities do not exist - the alternative is spending the money on yourself.

I can imagine the distribution being quite wide.

Comment by larks on [Link] MacKenzie Bezos signs the Giving Pledge · 2019-05-29T02:35:16.069Z · score: 13 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this! Poorly judged initial outreach can make later outreach harder, and rich people especially are experienced at having to resist people mooching off them. While I think there is a lot that individual EAs can make good progress on unilaterally, high value outreach suffers much more from the unilateralist's curse, and I think should be left to CEA and other responsible organisations.

Comment by larks on Drowning children are rare · 2019-05-29T02:29:49.492Z · score: 29 (11 votes) · EA · GW

It might be helpful if you linked to specific parts of the longer series which addressed this argument, or summarized the argument. Even if it would be good for people to read the entire thing it hardly seems like something we can expect as a precondition.

Comment by larks on Building a successful economy for collaborative cognitive work with high externalities · 2019-05-29T02:25:54.618Z · score: 19 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this! While I've long been a big fan of impact prize-like-mechanisms, the ideas about memetics and reinforcement learning were nice and novel - or at least if I'd thought about them properly before I'd forgotten them since. I also found the quote from Wei Dai very interesting.

I think you somewhat over-hedged in your openning paragraph however:

Global markets are currently only (somewhat) efficient in incentivising problem-solving in areas where the benefits can be internalised, such as by earning a profit from the product one has built. ^[Ignoring various market failures such as long-time horizons, large coordination problems, high initial costs, and more.]

Within this circumscribed range of problems (those whose benefits can be internalised, without long-term horizons, little coordination required, low capital needs), markets seem to be one of the most efficient mechanisms we have in motivating problem-solving. While we can think of some others that are also very effective, like intellectual curiosity for scientific discovery or parental love for childraising, there do not seem to be many which are dramatically more effective. If markets are indeed a top-tier incentivisation mechanism, calling them only 'somewhat' efficient, rather than 'quite' or 'often' seems to rather understate their potential for market mechanisms to incentivise useful charitable work.

Secondly, I don't think issues like long time horizons or high initial costs, and many coordination problems, are commonly considered market failures:

  • There are many examples of markets dealing correctly with issues a long way in the future. For example, Amazon has operated on a very long-term horizon for many years, forgoing current profitability for the sake of growth, and in financial markets there are liquid and rationally priced markets for bonds and derivatives maturing 50 years in the future.
  • Market mechanisms have incentivised investments in many large projects - a good example is semicondictor fabs, which take around a billion dollars of upfront capital investment before any return can be made.
  • Although you're right that there are some classes of coordination problems for which markets can struggle (e.g. holdouts refusing to sell land needed for a large project), there are others at which it excels, like coordinating supply chains across huge numbers of people.

A quick check on some online lists here and here confirms than these three are not generally considered examples of market failure.

As such I think if anything you are underselling the potential here. The fact that markets can deal with these sorts of problems gives me hope for very long-term impact prizes - things like financing projects with tradable impact certificates that ultimately pay off years in the future when the ultimate impact is clear.

Comment by larks on Jade Leung: Why Companies Should be Leading on AI Governance · 2019-05-23T23:10:07.748Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · EA · GW

First of all, thanks to whoever is posting these transcripts. I almost definitely would never have watched the video!

One is the conceptual argument that states are the only legitimate political authorities that we have in this world, so they're the only ones who should be doing this governance thing. ...

Now all of those things are true.

I think this is considerably more controversial than you assume. While it has been a few years since I studied political philosophy, my understanding is that philosophers have largely given up on the classical problem of political authority - justifying why governments a unique right to coerce people, and why people have an obligation to obey specifically because a government said so. All the attempted justifications are ultimately rather unsatisfying. It seems much more plausible that governments are justified if/when they pass good laws that protect people's rights and improve welfare - i.e. the morality of laws justifies the government, rather than the government justifying the morality of the laws. But this is obviously rather contingent, and doesn't suggest that states are in any way the only legitimate source of political authority.

For more discussion of this, I recommend Michael Huemer's excellent The Problem of Political Authority. There's also a Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article.

The authority of a company, for example, plausibly comes from something like their market power and the influence on public opinion. And you can argue about how legitimate that authority is

Here I think you are understanding the potential legitimacy of the influence of a private company. Their justification comes not from market power, but from people freely choosing to buy their products, and the expertise they demonstrate in effectively meeting this demand. To give a mundane example, a major shipping company would have justification in providing major input into international port standardization rules by virtue of their expertise in shipping; expertise which had been implicitly endorsed by everyone who chose to hire them for shipping services.

Comment by larks on EA Forum: Footnotes are live, and other updates · 2019-05-21T12:18:26.358Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Neat feature, thanks for adding.

Comment by larks on Effective Thesis project: second-year update · 2019-05-18T21:53:03.662Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this up, I found it very interesting, and it seems like a great project.

Quick question: did you mean to write "biology students" here below, or is there a tighter link between biosecurity and maths than I expected?

getting the general direction to focus on within their study discipline (e.g. biosecurity for maths students)
Comment by larks on The Narrowing Circle (Gwern) · 2019-05-18T03:53:46.567Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW
(2) does complicate things, and while I favor expanding abortion rights, I'm not sure I'd think of them as a facet of the "expanding circle" in the same way as I do the expansion of civil rights for certain groups.

This seems like a quite backwards way of describing the situation. The abortion case is very similar to canonical expanding circle cases, like the end of slavery, prohibition of spousal rape, or animal rights:

  • In each case one group (slave owners, husbands, abortionists, omnivores) were systematically acting in a way that advantaged themselves (forcing slaves to production of cotton, raping wives for sex, killing fetuses to avoid pregnancy, killing animals for meat) at high cost (brutality and loss of freedom, sexual abuse, death, torture and death) of another group (black people, wives, fetuses, animals).
  • In each case the dominant group justified their conduct partly by arguing that the other group didn't really count as people, perhaps because they lacked certain mental capacities.
  • In each case the dominant group justified their conduct partly by arguing that the other group had reduced or no ability to feel pain.
  • In each case the dominant group justified their conduct partly by arguing that they had an inherent right to act in this way, even if it hurt the other group.
  • In each case the dominant group argued that it was fine for others to avoid taking this action, but it was wrong for such conscientious objectors to prohibit them.
  • In each case the victimised group lacked formal representation in government.
  • In each case the scale of the issue was very large, and one could reasonably believe ending it was the most important issue in the world.

The abortion case is very similar to the standard expanding circle cases, and contrary to many western people's views. The fact that we have not seen a similar expanding moral circle for unborn children is either a big problem with the expanding circle theory (if we take it as a positive description of human values) or with our current legal and social system (if we take the theory as normative prescription for who we *should* care about).

Comment by larks on The case for delaying solar geoengineering research · 2019-05-17T03:01:59.412Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW
A persistent worry about solar geoengineering research concerns moral hazard: the worry that attention to plan B will reduce commitment to plan A. Having solar geoengineering as a backup will decrease commitment to reducing carbon emissions, which almost all researchers agree to be the top priority.

I'm not really sure why this would be a problem, though I read the sections in your paper - perhaps I just didn't understand properly. Moral hazard occurs when one group (Agent) pays another (Insurer) to cover the damages of some future event that Agent is partly responsible for. Because of this insurance, Agent has less incentive to avoid/mitigate the event. Insurer now has more incentive, but if it is cheaper for Agent to mitigate it than Insurer, total mitigation will go down (or total $ expenditure on mitigation will have to go up). This is inefficient, but due to imperfect contracting and monitoring hard to avoid.

But in the geoengineering case Agent and Insurer are the same - they're the researchers/governments. This doesn't seem so much like moral hazard as simply the substitution effect, in the same way that solar and geothermal energy are (imperfect) substitutes. Given the optionality inherent in research, it seems you need some strong irrationality story to say there will be a net-negative expected substitution effect.

I agree the weaponisation risks make sense as a reason not to do it, but they seem separate from the moral hazard idea.

Comment by larks on EA/X-risk/AI Alignment Coverage in Journalism · 2019-05-17T02:22:31.346Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW
Like, “Hey I want you to be able to cover factory farming as a beat,” seems fine, but “Hey I want you to report on how factory farming is evil and bad,” you know, then you’re asking for sponsored content, maybe without clarity to the readers about what is getting paid for. So you’d want it to be something where you want the beat to exist rather than you want a particular angle on coverage.

There is a significant disanalogy between factory farming and AI safety: any journalist hired to cover factory farming is almost certainly going to be against it, whereas there are plenty of people interested in covering AI who are not well aligned on the safety issue.

I have one idea, but I think this strategy may be a bad idea so am loath to share it.

Good news: I have no successfully guarded against this infohazard by forgetting what I was talking about.

Comment by larks on Is value drift net-positive, net-negative, or neither? · 2019-05-08T01:49:59.427Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

There are many different things that can cause us to change what we value. Some seem like change-processes that our current values would endorse:

  • I thought a lot about the issue, decided that two of my values were in conflict, and chose to prioritize one over the other.

Some seem like random processes we should resist:

  • I got hit in the head, and the damage caused me to change my personality and values.

Some seem actively adversarial:

  • Years of propaganda wore me down and caused me to love Dear Leader.

Or self-deceptive:

  • I subconsciously realized that opinion X was high status, and found it expedient to adopt this as well.

In general I think people's opinions on the issue depend on how common they think these different cases are. I am generally quite pessimistic here; I think the first case is quite rare, and most cases that appear to be of this form are really examples of the third or fourth case. This makes me pessimistic about the long-term future, and I am interested in what we can do to reduce the influence of the last three cases.

Comment by larks on Is EA unscalable central planning? · 2019-05-08T01:02:17.152Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, I thought you (or your friend) had some interesting points.

With regard the '80k is a central planner', I think it's important to bear in mind that economists don't object to planning per se. It is good that individual firms perform their own planning; what matters is that:

  • Firms have the right incentives.
  • The price mechanism provides signals between firms, that also aid intra-firm decision making via shadow pricing.
  • Planning occurs at the right scale - firms are under optimization pressure to be neither too small nor too large.

All of which are of course largely absent from the charity sector.

I think 80k is not subject to this critique insomuchas they direct a relatively small fraction of total resources. They're more similar to a single firm, which has a view on an under-addressed market niche, than a socialist planner trying to solve for everything in general equilibrium. Firms often persue plans without direct price signals (e.g. developing a new product for which no market or price currently exists), and I would analogize 80k to this in some regards.

Where I do think you could make this criticism would be with regard the 'planning' of the EA movement. To the extent you think that they have over-emphased applying to EA groups (or at least failing to communicate adequately their nuance on the issue) this looks like a classic case of central planners massively over-producing one good and under-producing another, with no price mechanism to equilbriate supply and demand.

Comment by larks on Is preventing child abuse a plausible Cause X? · 2019-05-04T23:33:41.022Z · score: 17 (9 votes) · EA · GW

I don't know much about it, but I did skim through the National Incidence Study on Childhood Abuse and Neglect. The thing that stood out to me the most was the massive difference in abuse rates between different family structures:

  • Married biological parents: < 3 per 1000
  • Single parent with partner: > 55 per 1000

Obviously we can't say this is all causal - in general all good properties are correlated, so it's likely there are shared genetic etc. causes.

Comment by larks on Activism to Make Kidney Sales Legal · 2019-04-09T21:43:50.634Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

My impression is that government prosecutors have a lot of discretion, so if you look too sympathetic they would simply turn a blind eye rather than suffer the negative media attention.

Comment by larks on Stefan Schubert: Psychology of Existential Risk and Long-Termism · 2019-03-25T22:08:39.790Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, this was very interesting. Quick question - is there meant to be an answer to this question?

Question: Were there any differences in zebra affinity between Americans and Britons?

Comment by larks on How to Understand and Mitigate Risk (Crosspost from LessWrong) · 2019-03-14T21:40:53.038Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW
It's quite easy to research the cost of creating a rice farm, or a power plant, as well as get a tight bounded probability distribution for the expected price you can sell your rice or electricity at after making the initial investment. These markets are very mature and there's unlikely to be wild swings or unexpected innovations that significantly change the market.

This doesn't affect your overall article much, but it's worth noting that commodity prices can be very volatile. Looking up the generic rice contract on Bloomberg for example, and picking the more extreme years but the same month (to avoid seasonality):

  • 1998 April: 10.2
  • 2002 April: 3.6
  • 2004 April: 11.3
  • 2005 April 7.2
  • 2008 April: 23.8
  • 2010 April: 12.6
  • 2013 April: 15.8
  • 2015 April: 10.0

You do have the ability to lock in the current implied profitability using futures, but in general commodity markets seem to be more volatile than non-commodity markets.

Comment by larks on Brian Tse: Risks from Great Power Conflicts · 2019-03-14T02:27:14.805Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW
I think one paper shows that there were almost 40 near misses, and I think that was put up by the Future of Life Institute, so some people can look up that paper, and I think that in general it seems that experts agree some of the biggest risks from nuclear would be accidental use, rather than deliberate and malicious use between countries.

Possibly you are thinking of the Global Catastrophic Risks Institute, and Baum et al.'s A Model for the Probability of Nuclear War ?

Comment by larks on EA/X-risk/AI Alignment Coverage in Journalism · 2019-03-10T17:15:40.625Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for highlighting this, I thought it was interesting. It does seem that, if you thought getting Vox to write about AI was good, it would be good to have an offsetting right-wing spokesman on the issue.

One related point would be that we can try to avoid excessively associating AI risk with left wing causes; discrimination is the obvious one. The alternative would be to try to come up with right-wing causes to associate it with as well; I have one idea, but I think this strategy may be a bad idea so am loath to share it.

Comment by larks on SHIC Will Suspend Outreach Operations · 2019-03-08T03:01:56.667Z · score: 53 (28 votes) · EA · GW

This was very interesting. Retrospectives on projects that didn't work can be extremely helpful to others, but I imagine can also been tough to write, so thanks very much!

Comment by larks on Making discussions in EA groups inclusive · 2019-03-05T04:15:10.691Z · score: 27 (15 votes) · EA · GW

It takes a long time to craft a response to posts like these. Even if there are clear problems with the post, given the sensitive topic you have to spend a lot of time on nuance, checking citations, and getting the tone right. That is a very high bar, one that I don't think is reasonable to expect everyone to pass. In contrast, people who agree seem to get a pass for silently upvoting.

Comment by larks on Making discussions in EA groups inclusive · 2019-03-05T02:00:11.731Z · score: 54 (22 votes) · EA · GW

While I appreciate your saying you don't intend to ban topics, I think there is considerable risk that this sort of policy becomes a form of de facto censorship. In the same way that we should be wary of Isolated Demands for Rigour, so too we should also be wary of Isolated Demands for Sensitivity.

Take for example the first item on your list - lets call it A).

Whether it is or has been right or necessary that women have less influence over intellectual debate and less economic and political power

I agree that this is not a great topic for an EA discussion. I haven't seen any arguments about the cost-effectiveness of a cause area that rely on whether A) is true or false. It seems unlikely that specifically feminist or anti-feminist causes would be the best things to work on, even if you thought A) was very true or false. If such a topic was very distracting, I can even see it making sense to essentially ban discussion of it, as LessWrong used to do in practice with regard Politics.

My concern is that a rule/recommendation against discussing such a topic might in practice be applied very unequally. For example, I think that someone who says

As you know, women have long suffered from discrimination, resulting a lack of political power, and their contributions being overlooked. This is unjust, and the effects are still felt today.

would not be chastised for doing so, or feel that they had violated the rule/suggestion.

However, my guess is that someone who said

As you know, the degree of discrimination against women has been greatly exaggerated, and in many areas, like conscription or homicide risk, they actually enjoy major advantages over men.

might be criticized for doing so, and might even agree (if only privately) that they had in some sense violated this rule/guideline with regard topic A).

If this is the case, then this policy is de facto a silencing not of topics, but of opinions, which I think is much harder to justify.

As a list of verboten opinions, this list also has the undesirable attribute of being very partisan. Looking down the list, it seems that in almost every case the discouraged/forbidden opinion is, in contemporary US political parlance, the (more) Right Wing opinion, and the assumed 'default' 'acceptable' one is the (more) Left Wing opinion. In addition, my impression (though I am less sure here) is that it is also biased against opinions disproportionately held by older people.

And yet these are two groups that are dramatically under-represented in the EA movement! (source) Certainly it seems that, on a numerical basis, conservatives are more under-represented than some of the protected groups mentioned in this article. This sort of list seems likely to make older and more conservative people feel less welcome, not more. Various viewpoints they might object to have been enshrined, and other topics, whose discussion conservatives find disasteful but is nonetheless not uncommon in the EA community, are not contraindicated.

For a generally well-received article on how to partially address this, you might enjoy Ozy's piece here.

Comment by larks on Research on Effective Strategies for Equity and Inclusion in Movement-Building · 2019-03-05T00:01:07.138Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Here is a recent study on the topic that I think is very relevant:

Gender, Race, and Entrepreneurship: A Randomized Field Experiment on Venture Capitalists and Angels (Gornall and Strebulaev)
We sent out 80,000 pitch emails introducing promising but fictitious start-ups to 28,000 venture capitalists and business angels. Each email was sent by a fictitious entrepreneur with a randomly selected gender (male or female) and race (Asian or White). Female entrepreneurs received an 8% higher rate of interested replies than male entrepreneurs pitching identical projects. Asian entrepreneurs received a 6% higher rate than White entrepreneurs. Our results are not consistent with discrimination against females or Asians at the initial contact stage of the investment process.

However, it does seem pretty applicable to EA. The EA community is in many ways similar to the VC community:

  • Similar geographies: the Bay Area, London, New York etc.
  • Similar education backgrounds.
  • Both involve evaluating speculative projects with a lot of uncertainty.

Similarly to the studies discussed above, this finds that people are biased against white men.

(I have some qualms about this type of study, because they involve wasting people's time without their consent, but this doesn't affect the conclusions.)

Comment by larks on After one year of applying for EA jobs: It is really, really hard to get hired by an EA organisation · 2019-02-26T12:55:28.295Z · score: 42 (21 votes) · EA · GW

Great post. I'm sure writing this must have been tough, so thanks very much for sharing this.

Comment by larks on Impact Prizes as an alternative to Certificates of Impact · 2019-02-26T04:19:12.082Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Great post; I had been thinking about writing something very similar. In many ways I think you have actually understated the potential of the idea. Additionally I think it addresses some of the concerns Owen raised last time.

Evaluation Costs
The final prize evaluations could be quite costly to produce.

I actually think the final evaluations might be cheaper than the status quo. At the moment OpenPhil (or whoever) has to do two things:

1) Judge how good an outcome is.

2) Judge how likely different outcomes are.

With this plan, 2) has been (partially) outsourced to the market, leaving them with just 1).

Cultural Risks
If Impact Prizes took off, I could imagine some actors drawing into the ecosystem who only motivated by making profits.

This is not a bug, this is a feature! There is a very large pool of people willing to predict arbitrary outcomes in return for money, that we have thus far only very indirectly been tapping into. In general bringing in more traders improves the efficiency of a market. Even if you add noisy traders, their presence improves the incentives for 'smart money' to participate. I think it's unlikely we'd reach the scale required for actual hedge funds to get involved, but I do think it's plausible we could get a lot of hedge fund guys participating in their spare time.

Legal Implications

In terms of legal status, one option I've been thinking about would be copying PredictIt. If we have to pay taxes every time a certificate is transferred, the transaction costs will be prohibitive. I am quite worried it will be hard to make this work within US law unfortunately, which is not very friendly to this sort of experimentation. At the same time, given the SEC's attitude towards non-compliant security issuance, I would not want to operate outside it!

Quick other thoughts

One issue with the idea is it is hard for OpenPhil to add more promised funding later, because the initial investment will already have been committed at some fixed level. e.g. If OpenPhil initially promise $10m, and then later bump it to $20m, projects that have already sold their tokens cannot expand to take advantage of this increase, so it is effectively pure windfall with no incentive effect. A possible solution would be cohorts; we promise $10m in 2022 for projects started in 2019, and then later add another $12m, paid in 2023, for 2020 projects.

Comment by larks on Impact Prizes as an alternative to Certificates of Impact · 2019-02-26T04:15:53.893Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I think I might have been the second largest purchaser of the certificates. My experience was that we didn't attract the really high quality projects I'd want, and those we did see had very high reservation prices from the sellers, perhaps due to the endowment effect. I suspect sellers might say that they didn't see enough buyers. Possibly we just had a chicken-and-egg problem, combined with everyone involved being kind of busy.

Comment by larks on Three Biases That Made Me Believe in AI Risk · 2019-02-16T00:18:47.719Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Could you go into a bit more detail about the two linguistic styles you described, perhaps using non-AI examples? My interpretation of them is basically agent-focused vs internal-mechanics-focused, but I'm not sure this is exactly what you mean.

If the above is correct, it seems like you're basically saying that internal-mechanics-focused descriptions work better for currently existing AI systems, which seems true to me for things like self-driving cars. But for something like AlphaZero, or Stockfish, I think an agentic framing is often actually quite useful:

A chess/Go AI is easy to imagine: they are smart and autonomous and you can trust the bot like you trust a human player. They can make mistakes but probably have good intent. When they encounter an unfamiliar game situation they can think about the correct way to proceed. They behave in concordance with the goal (winning the game) their creator set them and they tend to make smart decisions. If anything goes wrong then the car is at fault.

So I think the reason this type of language doesn't work well for self-driving cars is because they aren't sufficiently agent-like. But we know there can be agentic agents - humans are an example - so it seems plausible to me that agentic language will be the best descriptor for them. Certainly it is currently the best descriptor for them, given that we do not understand the internal mechanics of as-yet-uninvented AIs.

Comment by larks on Research on Effective Strategies for Equity and Inclusion in Movement-Building · 2019-02-01T03:22:36.786Z · score: 27 (16 votes) · EA · GW
In general it’s probably best not to anonymize applications. Field studies generally show no effect on interview selection, and sometimes even show a negative effect (which has also been seen in the lab). Blinding may work for musicians, randomly generated resumes, and identical expressions of interest, but in reality there seem to be subtle cues of an applicant’s background that evaluators may pick up on, and the risk of anonymization backfiring is higher for recruiting groups which are actively interested in DEI. This may be because they are unable to proactively check their biases when blind, or to proactively accommodate disadvantaged candidates at this recruitment stage, or because their staff is already more diverse and people may favor candidates they identify with demographically.

I think you are mis-describing these studies. Essentially, they found that when reviewers knew the race and sex of the applicants, they were biased in favour of women and non-whites, and against white males.

I admit I only read two of the studies you linked two, but I think these quotes from them are quite clear that about the conclusions:

We find that participating firms become less likely to interview and hire minority candidates when receiving anonymous resumes.

The public servants reviewing the job applicants engaged in discrimination that favoured female applicants and disadvantaged male candidates

Affirmative action towards the Indigenous female candidate is the largest, being 22.2% more likely to be short listed on average when identified compared to the de-identified condition. On the other hand, the identified Indigenous male CV is 9.4% more likely to be shortlisted on average compared to when it is de-identified. In absolute terms most minority candidates are on average more likely to be shortlisted when named compared to the de-identified condition, but the difference for the Indigenous female candidate is the only one that is statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.

This is also supported by other papers on the subject. For example, you might enjoy reading Williams and Ceci (2015):

The underrepresentation of women in academic science is typically attributed, both in scientific literature and in the media, to sexist hiring. Here we report five hiring experiments in which faculty evaluated hypothetical female and male applicants, using systematically varied profiles disguising identical scholarship, for assistant professorships in biology, engineering, economics, and psychology. Contrary to prevailing assumptions, men and women faculty members from all four fields preferred female applicants 2:1 over identically qualified males with matching lifestyles (single, married, divorced), with the exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference. Comparing different lifestyles revealed that women preferred divorced mothers to married fathers and that men preferred mothers who took parental leaves to mothers who did not. Our findings, supported by real-world academic hiring data, suggest advantages for women launching academic science careers.

This doesn't mean that anonymizing applications is a bad idea - it appears to have successfully reduced unfair bias - rather that the bias was in the opposite direction than the authors expected to find it.

Comment by larks on EA Forum Prize: Winners for December 2018 · 2019-01-31T02:11:16.815Z · score: 16 (10 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks very much! I think this prize is a great idea. I was definitely motivated to invest more time and effort by the hope of winning the prize (along with the satisfaction of getting front page with a lot of karma).

Comment by larks on Vox's "Future Perfect" column frequently has flawed journalism · 2019-01-28T02:26:06.780Z · score: 14 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I have definitely heard people referring to Future Perfect as 'the EA part of Vox' or similar.

Comment by larks on How can I internalize my most impactful negative externalities? · 2019-01-17T22:12:34.762Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

You might enjoy this post Claire wrote: Ethical Offsetting is Antithetical to EA.

Comment by larks on What Is Effective Altruism? · 2019-01-14T02:45:36.192Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this, I thought it was quite a good summary. However, I would like to push back on two things.

Effective altruism is egalitarian. Effective altruism values all people equally

I often think of age as being one dimension that egalitarians think should not influence how important someone is. However, despite GiveWell being one of the archetypal EA organisations (along with GWWC/CEA), they do not do this. Rather, they value middle-aged years of life more highly than baby years or life or old people years of life. See for example this page here. Perhaps EA should be egalitarian, but de facto it does not seem to be.

Effective altruism is secular. It does not recommend charities that most effectively get people into Heaven ...

This item seem rather different from the other items on the list. Most of the others seem like rational positions for virtually anyone to hold. However, if you were religious, this tennant seems very irrational - helping people get into heaven would be the most effective thing you could do! Putting this here seems akin to saying that AMF is an EA value; rather, these are conclusions, not premises.

Additionally, there is some evidence that promoting religion might be beneficial even on strictly material grounds. Have you seen the recent pre-registered RCT on protestant evangelism?

To test the causal impact of religiosity, we conducted a randomized evaluation of an evangelical Protestant Christian values and theology education program that consisted of 15 weekly half-hour sessions. We analyze outcomes for 6,276 ultra-poor Filipino households six months after the program ended. We find significant increases in religiosity and income, no significant changes in total labor supply, assets, consumption, food security, or life satisfaction, and a significant decrease in perceived relative economic status. Exploratory analysis suggests the program may have improved hygienic practices and increased household discord, and that the income treatment effect may operate through increasing grit.

I don't have a strong view on whether or not this is actually a good thing to do, let alone the best thing. RCTs provide high quality causal evidence, but even then most interventions do not work very well, and I'm not an expert on the impact of evangelism. But it seems strange to assume from very beginning that it is not something EAs would ever be interested in.

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