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comment by gjm · 2018-03-14T18:04:54.954Z · score: 40 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I dislike the framing here in a number of ways.

1. You're talking about the world as a whole but using the terminology of games. That's fair enough, I suppose, but I worry that it leads to treating the world as game-like in ways that it really isn't. And I think this has actually happened -- e.g., when you describe how live-ness is helpful under the two categories of "offensive" and "defensive"; I claim that outside artificially-purely-competitive games much -- perhaps most -- of what we do is neither of those things.

2. "Live" and "dead" seem like language too extreme for the distinction you're making. Someone who is merely "working off a script" can still have considerable impact on the world, after all.

3. It seems to me that what-you-call-live-ness is actually a spectrum; some people (and other agents) are more original than others. Live/dead suggests something binary, or at least bimodal, and I'm unconvinced that that matches reality.

Much of the rest seems doubtful at best. Some examples:

4. What you say about "traditions of knowledge" seems like an equivocation. First of all you say that a "live player" is producing new things and therefore by definition must have (or, I suggest, be) a "living tradition of knowledge". But then you say that a l.t.o.k. must have "at least one theorist", which unless you're defining "theorist" super-broadly seems like it's only a reasonable conclusion if you define l.t.o.k. in a more specific way that doesn't let you go straight from "produces new things" to "has a living tradition of knowledge".

5. You say that a group "must be tightly coordinated" in order to do new things, but don't offer any actual evidence for that. I'm not at all sure it's true, and guess that it probably isn't. (What might be true is that when a group that isn't tightly coordinated does new things, those are usually better thought of as originality by the group's members rather than the group as a whole. But that isn't a reason to prefer tight coordination; what matters is how much originality the group produces, not whether it's credited to the group or its individual members.)

6. All the stuff about Steve Jobs and the intelligence community seems like overconfident guesswork. Perhaps Apple just hadn't been faced with onerous compliance demands before. Perhaps Apple had previously been willing to comply and what changed was that they became less willing. Perhaps they did indeed have good ways to deal with "the intelligence world" but it was other people within Apple rather than Steve Jobs himself that had that expertise.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-03-14T19:08:04.099Z · score: 34 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I roughly agree, though also have complicated thoughts on all of these. For example, I think there is a good case to be made for live/dead to be binary, or at least to have a pretty sharp transition between the two (in general impact on various scales appears to be heavy-tail distributed, which suggests that you often have increasing marginal returns in competence). I think in general coding things as binary variables is a reasonable first thing to do, and is usually surprisingly accurate (i.e. categorizing charitable interventions as "plausible effective" and "ineffective" gets you 90% of the variance or so, because the best interventions we can identify are very likely many orders of magnitudes better than the average one, meaning you should basically just ignore the average one). I also remember some research on linear classifiers that were limited to just coding weights as +1 or -1 and them almost achieving the same performance as general linear classifiers (while being much much simpler).

My general thoughts on the post is that I am excited about the model it is proposing, but would prefer a bit more explicitness about the degree to which the model is a toy model, and the degree to which it serves as an intuition pump vs. a comprehensive model, and more analysis on how it compares to other models. But if I have to trade off between those and getting more of the model written up at all, I would probably prefer to get more of the model written up.

comment by gjm · 2018-03-15T04:12:02.118Z · score: 11 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough! My own reaction is different, as you'll have guessed: my intuition/prejudices don't make me optimistic about the model being proposed, and there are enough things in the presentation that just seem wrong-headed (and little enough that feels like it's providing valuable insight) that I don't feel any particular appetite for more.

But, of course, criticism is easier, and a less scarce resource, than original thought -- and my gut reactions could very easily be badly wrong. (So, in particular, my comments aren't intended to persuade the OP not to post more.)

I take your point about heavy-tailed distributions, but remark that in so far as that's an accurate description we need to draw the live/dead boundary between *the very most original agents* and *everyone else*, which I don't think is the OP's intent -- at any rate, I find that hard to square with judging Russia "live" merely because they did something that plenty of other countries do and "is merely new for modern-day Russia", or with putting the boundary between Jobs-era Apple and Cook-era Apple.

comment by Elo · 2018-03-15T04:26:51.323Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A note: too many live players becomes chaotic and unpredictable and dangerous and is not a equilibrium state. In various ways it will become "unsafe" and systems will be put in place (like regulations) to protect people.

comment by Samo Burja · 2018-03-15T17:46:17.573Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect there to be large differences in power and skill among the live players so I don't actually expect much instability.

You are correct that there are systems put in place sometimes to limit such strategic actors, however the actors either bypass the systems or the systems are themselves maintained and modified in an adaptive way by other live players.

Then one has to examine the motivation of the live players maintaining the systems. Arguably the most common one is to use them as vehicles of personal power against other live players.

comment by norswap · 2018-03-15T16:21:51.282Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Like others, I'm not too fond of this.

It feels like signalling the superiority of people who are striving / trying to improve over people who are comfortably striving.

That's maybe something a lot of people may agree with, but for me there are a lot of things to be said for comfortable **mindful** striving as opposed to running in circle / running nowhere.

My main issue is that using people I know, I wouldn't really put the "living" people as better off than the "dead" people, at least in terms of their own life satisfaction and how much I would seek their companionship -- admiration is more of a tie, but I'm afraid I tend to over-admire people with masochistic tendencies and not much to show for it.

comment by Samo Burja · 2018-03-15T17:47:59.965Z · score: 16 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't make claim being a strategic player being a desirable or happy state of life. But I can see the connotation you note. It isn't intentional. The purpose of the model is to help with making predictions as to what happens in the world and in particular to help with decision making and evaluation in adversarial contexts.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-03-15T09:10:02.920Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
They also completed a military operation in Syria, notable in part because Syria is outside of Russia’s sphere of influence (i.e. the post-Soviet sphere), where they achieved their foreign policy objective of stabilizing Assad.

Given that Russia has naval base in Syria since 1971 I don't think it makes much sense to see it as outside of their traditional sphere of influence.

comment by Samo Burja · 2018-03-15T17:45:46.354Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The realistic extent of Russia's sphere of influence after 1991 was merely the Post-Soviet republics. The wider sphere that the Soviets held in Eastern Europe, East Africa, the Middle East and Asia effectively implodes then. A demonstration of this is Russia's policy being essentially irrelevant to the Balkan conflicts.