Posts

And was it for rational, object-level reasons? 2020-03-17T10:30:20.070Z
80% of data in Chinese clinical trials have been fabricated 2016-10-02T07:38:05.278Z
[LINK] Updating Drake's Equation with values from modern astronomy 2016-04-30T22:08:07.858Z
Meetup : Tel Aviv Meetup: solving anthropic puzzles using UDT 2015-07-20T17:37:37.359Z
Meetup : Tel Aviv Meetup: Social & Board Games 2015-07-01T17:53:21.516Z
When does heritable low fitness need to be explained? 2015-06-10T00:05:10.338Z
Meetup : Tel Aviv Meetup: Social & Board Games 2015-05-05T10:07:51.037Z
Meetup : Less Wrong Israel Meetup: Social and Board Games 2015-04-12T14:43:59.290Z
Meetup : Less Wrong Israel Meetup: Social and Board Games 2015-03-30T08:28:10.122Z
Meetup : Tel Aviv: Slightly Less Hard Problems of Consciousness 2015-03-15T21:07:49.159Z
Meetup : Less Wrong Israel Meetup: social and board games 2015-03-06T10:34:01.202Z
Meetup : Less Wrong Israel Meetup: Social and Board Games 2015-01-10T09:48:33.654Z
Meetup : Israel Less Wrong Meetup - Social, Board Games 2014-11-10T14:00:51.188Z
Meetup : Less Wrong Israel Meetup (Herzliya): Social and Board Games 2014-09-04T13:17:23.800Z
[LINK] Behind the Shock Machine: book reexamining Milgram obedience experiments 2013-09-13T13:20:44.900Z
Meetup : LessWrong Israel September meetup 2013-08-06T12:11:12.797Z
Meetup : Israel LW meetup 2013-06-25T15:44:39.851Z
Does evolution select for mortality? 2013-02-23T19:33:12.534Z
I want to save myself 2011-05-20T10:27:25.788Z
Choose To Be Happy 2011-01-01T22:50:56.697Z
Proposal: Anti-Akrasia Alliance 2011-01-01T21:52:31.760Z

Comments

Comment by DanArmak on This Can't Go On · 2021-09-20T21:49:44.438Z · LW · GW

Please see my other reply here. Yes, value is finite, but the number of possible states of the universe is enormously large, and we won't explore it in 8000 years. The order of magnitude is much bigger.

(Incidentally, our galaxy is ~ 100,000 light years across; so even expanding to cover it would take much longer than 8000 years, and that would be creating value the old-fashioned way by adding atoms, but it wouldn't support continued exponential growth. So "8000 years" and calculations based off the size of the galaxy shouldn't be mixed together. But the order-of-magnitude argument should work about as well for the matter within 8000 light-years of Earth.)

Comment by DanArmak on This Can't Go On · 2021-09-20T17:12:24.121Z · LW · GW

in their expected lifespan

Or even in the expected lifetime of the universe.

perhaps we don’t need to explore all combinations of atoms to be sure that we’ve achieved the limit of value.

That's a good point, but how would we know? We would need to prove that a given configuration is of maximal (and tile-able) utility without evaluating the (exponentially bigger) number of configurations of bigger size. And we don't (and possibly can't, or shouldn't) have an exact (mathematical) definition of a Pan-Human Utility Function.

However, a proof isn't needed to make this happen (for better and for worse). If a local configuration is created which is sufficiently more (universally!) valuable than any other known local configuration, neighbors will start copying it and it will tile the galaxy, possibly ending progress if it's a stable configuration - even if this configuration is far from the best one possible locally (let alone globally).

In practice, "a wonderful thing was invented, everyone copied it of their own free will, and stayed like that forever because human minds couldn't conceive of a better world, leaving almost all possible future value on the table" doesn't worry me nearly as much as other end-of-progress scenarios. The ones where everyone dies seem much more likely.

Comment by DanArmak on This Can't Go On · 2021-09-20T14:01:12.150Z · LW · GW

In the limit you are correct: if a utility function assigns a value to every possible arrangement of atoms, then there is some maximum value, and you can't keep increasing value forever without adding atoms because you will hit the maximum at some point. An economy can be said to be "maximally efficient" when value can't be added by rearranging its existing atoms, and we must add atoms to produce more value.

However, physics provides very weak upper bounds on the possible value (to humans) of a physical system of given size, because the number of possible physical arrangements of a finite-sized system is enormous. The Bekenstein bound is approximately 2.6e43 * M * R (mass times radius) bits per kg * m. Someone who understands QM should correct me here, but just as an order-of-magnitude-of-order-of-magnitude estimation, our galaxy masses around 1e44 Kg with a radius of 1e18 meters, so its arrangement in a black hole can contain up to 2.6e105 bits of information.

Those are bits; the number of states is 2^(2.6e105). That is much, much bigger than the OP's 3e70; we can grow the per-atom value of the overall system state by a factor much bigger than 3e70.

Of course this isn't a tight argument and there are lots of other things to consider. For example, to get the galaxy into some valuable configuration, we'd need to "use up" part of the same galaxy in the process of changing the configuration of the rest. But from a purely physical perspective, the upper bound on value per atom is enormously high.

ETA: replaced mind-boggling numbers with even bigger mind-boggling numbers after a more careful reading of Wikipedia.

Comment by DanArmak on This Can't Go On · 2021-09-20T13:23:25.877Z · LW · GW

The OP's argument is general: it says essentially that (economic) value is bounded linearly by the number of atoms backing the economy. Regardless of how the atoms are translated to value. This is an impossibility argument. My rebuttal was also general, saying that value is not so bounded.

Any particular way of extracting value, like electronics, usually has much lower bounds in practice than 'linear in the amount of atoms used' (even ignoring different atomic elements). So yes, today's technology that depends on 'rare' earths is bounded by the accessible amount of those elements.

But this technology is only a few decades old. The economy has been growing at some % a year for much longer than that, across many industries and technological innovations that have had very different material constraints from each other. And so, while contemporary rare-earth-dependent techniques won't keep working forever, the overall trend of economic growth could continue far beyond any one technology's lifespan, and for much longer than the OP projects.

Technology and other secular change doesn't always increase value; often it is harmful. My argument is that economy can keep growing for a long time, not that it necessarily will, or that all (or even most) changes over time are for the best. And GDP is not a good measure of human wellbeing to begin with; we're measuring dollars, not happiness, and when I talk about "utility" I mean the kind estimated via revealed preferences.

Comment by DanArmak on This Can't Go On · 2021-09-20T13:14:28.552Z · LW · GW

The rate of value production per atom can be bounded by physics. But the amount of value ascribed to the thing being produced is only strictly bounded by the size of the number (representing the amount of value) that can be physically encoded, which is exponential in the number of atoms, and not linear.

Comment by DanArmak on This Can't Go On · 2021-09-19T16:23:25.911Z · LW · GW

By "proportionately more" I meant more than the previous economic-best use of the same material input, which the new invention displaced (modulo increasing supply). For example, the amount of value derived by giving everyone (every home? every soldier? every car?) a radio is much greater than any other value the same amount of copper, zinc etc. could have been used for before the invention of radio. We found a new way to get more value from the same material inputs.

For material outputs (radio sets, telegraph wire, computers), of course material inputs are used. But the amount of value we get from the inputs is not really related to, or bounded by, the amount of input material. A new way of using material can have an arbitrarily high value-produced-to-materials-consumed ratio.

I'll run with your example of semiconductor factories. A factory costs between $1-20 billion to build. The semiconductor industry has a combined yearly revenue of $500 billion (2018). Doesn't sound like a huge multiplier so far.

But then consider that huge amounts of modern technology (= value) require semiconductors as an input. The amount of semiconductor industry inputs, and material waste byproducts, was similar in 1990 and 2020 (same order of magnitude). But the amount of value enabled by using those semiconductors was enormously larger in 2020. Whole new markets were created thanks to the difference in capability between 1990 semiconductors ($100 per megabyte DRAM) and 2020 ($0.003 per MB). Smartphones, PCs, modern videogames, digital video and audio, digital cameras, most of the way the Internet and Web are used today; but also all modern devices with chips inside, from cars to satellites; the list is almost endless.

All of these require extra inputs besides semiconductors, and those inputs cost time and money. But the bill of materials for a 2020 smartphone is smaller and cheaper than that of an early 1990 cellphone, while the value to the owner is much greater. (A lot of the value comes from software and digital movies and music, which don't consume atoms in the relevant sense, because they can be copied on demand.)

Comment by DanArmak on This Can't Go On · 2021-09-19T14:49:19.974Z · LW · GW

GDP growth is measured in money, a measure of value. Value does not have to be backed by a proportional amount of matter (or energy, space or time) because we can value things as much as we like - more than some constant times utilon per gram second.

Suppose I invent an algorithm that solves a hard problem and sell it as a service. The amount people will be willing to pay for it - and the amount the economy grows - is determined by how much people want it and how much money there is, but nobody cares how many new atoms I used to implement it. If I displace older, less efficient algorithms, then I produce value while reducing the number of atoms (or watts) backing the economy!

Material goods and population size can't keep growing forever, but value can. Many recent developments that produced a lot of value, like radio, computing, and the Internet, didn't do it by using proportionally more atoms. An algorithm is a convenient example but this applies to non-digital services just as much.

This is not a novel argument but I can't recall it's source or name.

Comment by DanArmak on How factories were made safe · 2021-09-16T10:27:08.302Z · LW · GW

Sorry, who is GBS?

Also: if Orwell thought vegeterians expected to gain 5 years of life, that would be an immense effect well worth some social disruption. And boo Orwell for mocking them merely for being different and not for any substance of the way they were different. It's not as if people eating different food intrudes on others (or even makes them notice, most of the time), unlike e.g. nudists, or social-reforming feminists.

Comment by DanArmak on I wanted to interview Eliezer Yudkowsky but he's busy so I simulated him instead · 2021-09-16T10:22:17.816Z · LW · GW

I strongly agree that the methodology should have presented up front. lsusr's response is illuminative and gives invaluable context.

But my first reaction to your comment was to note the aggressive tone and what feels like borderline name-calling. This made me want to downvote and ignore it at first, before I thought for a minute and realized that yes, on the object level this is a very important point. It made it difficult for me to engage with it.

So I'd like to ask you what exactly you meant (because it's easy to mistake tone on the internet) and why. Calling the LW audience (i.e. including me) 'alarmist and uninformed' I can understand (if not necessarily agree with) but 'an AGI death cult'? That seems to mean a cult that wants to bring about death through AGI but that's the opposite of what LW is about and so I'm pretty sure you didn't mean that. Please clarify.

Comment by DanArmak on How factories were made safe · 2021-09-15T20:52:19.532Z · LW · GW

In addition to this there is the horrible—the really disquieting—prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words 'Socialism' and 'Communism' draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, 'Nature Cure' quack, pacifist and feminist in England.

It's interesting to see how this aged. 85 years later, sex-maniacs and quacks are still considered 'cranks'; pacifism and nudists are not well tolerated by most societies, whereas sandal-wearing is more often respected; and vegetarianism and (1930s) feminism are completely mainstream.

Also, I was surprised to learn that Orwell thinks people typically become vegetarian to extend their lifespan, and not for ethical reasons. Was this true in 1930s England? Did Western vegetarianism use to be a fad diet on part with Orwell's "fruit-drinkers"?

Comment by DanArmak on Covid 8/26: Full Vaccine Approval · 2021-08-26T22:16:51.956Z · LW · GW

The link to "Israeli data" is wrong; it goes to the tweet by @politicalmath showing the Houston graph you inlined later.

Comment by DanArmak on What are some good rationalist ice breaker questions? · 2021-08-25T13:47:42.406Z · LW · GW

What is the most rational way to break ice?

Comment by DanArmak on A deeper look at doxepin and the FDA · 2021-08-13T19:51:01.336Z · LW · GW
  1. Does the cost to get a drug approved depend on how novel or irreplaceable it might be? Did it cost the same amount to approve Silenor for insomnia as it would cost to approve a really novel drug much better at combating insomnia than any existing one?

    If the FDA imposes equal costs on any new drug, then it's not "imposing [costs] on a company trying to [...] parasitize the healthcare system". It's neutrally imposing costs on all companies developing drugs. And this probably does a lot more harm on net (fewer drugs marketed) then it does good (punishes some drugs that harm society).

    Silenor may be a bad example for the anti-FDA narrative, but I don't think this is strong evidence against the narrative, given all the other (hopefully good) examples that we have.

    To be clear, it's very important and beneficial to call out bad examples in a narrative, thank you for doing that. We should update on this information. But I don't agree with your conclusions.

  2. Pharma companies can probably estimate the cost of bringing a new drug to market, and make a rational cost-benefit decision (citation needed). Somaxon presumably made a bad decision with Silenor, and was 'punished' by losing money.

    That's what happens to any companies in a market. Even if it was cheap to bring a drug to market, companies would still make money on some drugs but lose money on others. Why do we need an agency like the FDA imposing extra costs?

    One of the complaints about the FDA is that only big and well-established companies can afford to bring a drug to market. It's a moat against new competitors, and a net harm to society because fewer good drugs are developed and approved.

    Suppose the FDA found a way to make drug approval cost 50% less, while still approving the same drugs in the same amount of time. That is, pharma companies would pay half what they do now to go through the process. Most people would say this is a good thing, i.e. less dead loss. Would you call it a bad thing because it would reduce the 'punishment' of companies? If so, do you think the cost should be increased, or does it happen to be just right?

Comment by DanArmak on Deliberately Vague Language is Bullshit · 2021-05-15T13:22:10.083Z · LW · GW

Bullshit is what comes out of the mouth of someone who values persuasion over truth. [...] The people with a need to obscure the truth are those with a political or social agenda.

Almost all humans, in almost all contexts, value persuasion over truth and have a social agenda. Condemning all human behavior that is not truth-seeking is condemning almost all human behavior. This is a strong (normative? prescriptive? judgmental?) claim that should be motivated, but you seem to take it for given.

Persuasion is a natural and desirable behavior in a social, cooperative species that is also competitive on the individual level. The main alternative to persuasion is force, and in most cases I'm glad people use persuasion rather than force. Truth-seeking would also fare worse in a more violent world, because truth has some persuasion value but little violence-value.

Truth is instrumentally useful to persuasion inasfar as people are able to identify truth and inclined to prefer it. I'm all for increasing these two characteristics and otherwise "raising the sanity waterline". But that is very far from a blanket condemnation of "valuing persuasion over truth".

Comment by DanArmak on Zvi's Law of No Evidence · 2021-05-15T12:56:29.066Z · LW · GW

If someone says there is "no evidence" of something then it is because they are trying to pass off "nobody looked for Bigfoot and nobody found him" as "explorers looked for Bigfoot and nobody found him".

A "no evidence" argument doesn't have to be made in bad faith. It's claiming that we've looked into the people who said they saw Bigfoot (as opposed to looking for Bigfoot itself), and concluded those claims have no good evidence behind them. And so, without evidence, we should rule out Bigfoot, because the prior for Bigfoot is very low. We would need positive evidence to raise the Bigfoot hypothesis to the level of conscious consideration, and we claim there is no such evidence.

Yes, a claim of "no evidence" is - in this context - a social attack on the people who were talking about the subject (and so implicitly claiming "yes evidence"). In the highly politicized context Zvi is discussing, almost all factual arguments are disguised social attacks; rhetorics, meant to persuade people, with facts and logic being instrumental but not the goal.

And so we can justly ignore the whole discussion because we think it's not about facts and arguments and real "evidence" and it never was. But if we want to engage with the discussion using our own arguments and evidence (or to pretend to do so for our own social goals), then we should acknowledge that a valid factual claim is being made here, which we can evaluate without dismissing it as purely rhetorical manipulation ("passing off argument A as argument B").

Zvi wrote,

No evidence should be fully up there with “government denial” or “I didn’t do it, no one saw me do it, there’s no way they can prove anything.” If there was indeed no evidence, there’d be no need to claim there was no evidence, and this is usually a move to categorize the evidence as illegitimate and irrelevant because it doesn’t fit today’s preferred form of scientism.

I disagree with this. If people claim Bigfoot exists, and I think they have no evidence for that claim, then yes I will say there is no evidence. The mere fact that people claim A is not in itself evidence for A, because people are not pure truth-seekers, and if I acknowledge any claim as itself constituting evidence, they will proceed to claim lots of things without evidence behind them. I don't need to "categorize the evidence as illegitimate and irrelevant", I should be able to say plainly that there is no evidence to begin with. It's not because "it doesn't fit today's preferred form of scientism", it's because seeing a vague outline in a snow-storm really truly isn't evidence for Bigfoot.

When people we don't like claim things that are clearly wrong, we may want to dismiss their arguments are rhetorically invalid or malicious or made in bad faith. To claim that the form of such arguments necessarily indicates they are being made in bad faith. But that is engaging on their terms - analyzing why they're making the arguments, instead of analyzing the arguments themselves (simulacra levels!). These two discussions are both necessary but they should be kept apart. On the object level, we should be able to keep saying - the arguments are not "wrongly shaped", they are just factually wrong.

Comment by DanArmak on Covid 4/1: Vaccine Passports · 2021-04-02T16:46:39.271Z · LW · GW

We're talking past one another, trying to solve different problems. I'm a software engineer by profession and I understand how public-key cryptography works. I also assumed you were not a software engineer because your comment didn't make sense for the problem as I understand it.

The QR code contains a cryptographically signed attestion that "DanArmak" is vaccinated. Not "whoever displays this code is vaccinated".

That works fine, and is the system used in Israel and proposed in some EU countries. But it's not what I understand Zvi to be arguing for. Zvi wants a system which doesn't let verifiers identify the person in front of them, only learn that they're vaccinated. He clarifies this in this comment.

If the QR proves "DanArmak is vaccinated", then I also need to prove I'm DanArmak. E.g. by displaying a state ID. This lets verifiers track me, simply because they learn who I am and businesses regularly sell or share data on customers / visitors. The application verifying the QR codes can make this even easier - most businesses install the same verifier application, and it uploads info about the people whose IDs it verifies. IIUC, the US doesn't have any privacy laws that would forbid private entities from such collading, tracking, and selling such data, even without disclosure.

Comment by DanArmak on Covid 4/1: Vaccine Passports · 2021-04-02T16:37:05.897Z · LW · GW

we have proof by example

What's the example you're thinking of? I'm sorry if you mentioned it before and I missed it.

We need something harder to fake than a Fake ID, where the QR code doesn't reveal who you are, so you can't be tracked beyond the existing ability to track cell phones.

If I understand correctly, you don't want the QR code to prove that "John Doe, ID #123456789, is vaccinated" and then have the verifier ask to see a separate, pre-existing ID that shows you're John Doe. Which is how the actual and proposed vaccination passports in Israel and some of the EU work. (Hence I don't know what example you're thinking of.)

Instead you want the QR code to prove that "the bearer of this code is vaccinated". That implies the code must be secret and not trivially shareable between many different people. But copying images and taking screenshots is trivial. So the code must not be a single permanent QR per person, but generated by the application: either frequently replaced (like OTP) or on-demand (challenge-response protocol).

This could work if installing or activating the app required approval from a central database / service. This approach has difficulties I noted before, including proving to the app you're you, and multiple activations. And it still lets the app owner track you, since the app stays active.

What approach are you thinking of?

Comment by DanArmak on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-04-02T09:56:54.809Z · LW · GW

Both things are true. An attacker can find poorly protected keys that are easier to steal (although key protection may weakly correlate with key value). And a defender can invest to make their own key much harder to steal.

Comment by DanArmak on Covid 4/1: Vaccine Passports · 2021-04-02T07:17:16.290Z · LW · GW

the vaccination doesn't expire, so the code doesn't need to

If a person receives a static, permanent QR code, then some QRs will leak (or be deliberately leaked) and will be used en masse. And some QRs will be given out to friends and family.

With permanent codes, the application presenting the QR can't prove it's the genuine application, so people could just as easily show an image.

That also lets everyone share QR codes easily (i.e. without being tech savvy or investing effort) - just use your phone's screenshot function while the real app is open. And whoever verifies the QR code can also reproduce it.

This is the lowest possible level of security. Saying that such an un-trustworthy system creates net positive value for society requires some serious proof, which I haven't seen.

Including photos in the QR is possible; a B&W photo would fit. If you want to include more data, you can put a copy of the photo online (so that the verifier can pull the exact file) and sign its hash and URL as part of the QR token. Or use NFC to transmit the (signed) photo. Or use several QRs displayed in succession. QR bandwidth is surprisingly high. However, using photos raises other questions, such as what about all the people the government doesn't have official or up-to-date photos of (and see also my other top level reply).

Comment by DanArmak on Covid 4/1: Vaccine Passports · 2021-04-01T14:43:33.114Z · LW · GW

A QR code can be placed upon a piece of paper, and those without a phone can carry the piece of paper, the same way we can carry the vaccination card now except with a less trivial duplication/fraud problem. It’s not a meaningful objection.

You seem to assume a user would print out a QR code from e.g. a website at home and then carry it around. It would need to be valid for at least a day, and to be re-usable for multiple verifications. This could make it harder to build a secure system with the same guarantees as you might get from very short lived tokens (OTP style). I don't think you should dismiss this out of hand.

It also rules out a challenge/response system between the verifier and the app, which might be useful for some designs.

Comment by DanArmak on Covid 4/1: Vaccine Passports · 2021-04-01T14:20:59.754Z · LW · GW

There are plenty of privacy experts out there that can design a version of the system where you can’t be tracked. The system can see if you’re vaccinated, but it can’t tell who ‘you’ are while doing so, except to verify that the claim is legitimate.

I'm not a privacy expert. It's not obvious to me how to design such a system. Can someone explain or link to a proposal? The 'obvious' way would be to give people tokens when vaccinating them, but it's too late for that.

Also, do you mean "can't be tracked by the system itself, including the app you've installed on your phone which provides QR codes", or "can't be tracked by everyone you show the QR codes to, even if they cooperate" (because they all get QR-verifying software from the same vendor, which phones home)?

ETA: you write both "I expect crypto people to have good answers to these problems" and "my assumption is it also probably won’t be that difficult to fake the passport". This is contradictory. My comment responds to the first claim.

(Rewrote to better present the same argument, and removed some weaker arguments)

I don't see how to accomplish the first (stronger) version. Since people weren't given un-forgeable tokens when they were vaccinated, you need them to install an app and tell it who they are. Which lets the app track them; you'd need to trust the government, the software sub-contractor who actually wrote it, their software supply chain, and the server it talks to.

Suppose you do trust the app, or you only want to achieve the weaker kind of security, where the verifiers (who see your QR tokens) can't identify or track you. That still leaves some issues:

  1. How does the app know you're vaccinated? Does the government already have a database / list of vaccinated people? Did people get magical pieces of paper when they were vaccinated? Based on your past posts about the distribution process, I would expect this info to be incomplete, inaccurate, and probably not yet centralized. And if it did exist, privacy advocates would probably be concerned about that.

    If vetting people who install the app is taken seriously, there will probably be a lot of false negatives, which will justly upset people and get media attention. And any attempt to redress this will make it easier for un-vaccinated people to register.

  2. How do you prove to the passport app that you're you? If the system knows "John Doe" is vaccinated, what stops people from telling their phone they are John Doe? Maybe they need details like when and where John was vaccinated, but this is likely to leak for a bunch of people. On a smaller scale, vaccinated people can register on their unvaccinated friends' and loved ones' phones, to let them go places. Or just loan them their phones for a bit.

    The system could show the verifier a photo of the real John Doe (but does the government have everyone's photos?) That would mostly solve the problem, although using a single / 'reference' photo for each person would let verifiers link data and look that person up without resorting to image recognition or image search. (I'm assuming here verifiers can surreptitiously take a photo of you, but that it would be less convenient / useful than a 'reference' one.)

    The system could enforce a reasonable limit of phones (installations) per person. That might enable griefing, if I can register in your name and prevent you from registering yourself. This might be an acceptable tradeoff. It would still let people register for 1-2 'extras'.

Comment by DanArmak on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-03-31T06:38:28.389Z · LW · GW

That's true. But a well-protected key is much, much harder to steal than it is to fake an ID. (We were not discussing stealing IDs.)

Comment by DanArmak on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-03-30T15:40:02.910Z · LW · GW

I think we had different intuitions because we considered different user populations; a kind of "typical skill fallacy" on my part.

It might be, as you say, easier to steal an average blockchain user's private key than to successfully fake their government ID. I don't think I know what the average blockchain user's security is like, and whether it's much better than the average computer user's security, which is very poor. (Although that statement once again bakes in some assumptions about the attacker...)

Rather, I was imagining myself, and others who like me have some relevant experience. (I've spent a few years helping manage a private X.509 CA and associated hardware and software in a pretty paranoid environment, so perhaps my expectations are set high!) I believe that if I wanted to strongly protect a private key, because I had a lot of value invested in it, I'd be able to make it much more secure than my government ID.

The key point is that a blockchain user can invest in security proportionally to the value being guarded. Whereas IDs provide a similar level of security to everyone; one person's ID probably isn't orders of magnitude harder to fake than another's. Unless they're e.g. very famous, or very unlikely to be found where you are or doing the things you're doing with their ID, in which case verifiers might not believe you even if you look like the photo on the ID. (Although social engineering can work wonders.)

I wasn't talking about any blockchain use in particular, and I don't have a strong, thought-out defense of any particular use tied to real-world entities like real estate; I haven't investigated the subject enough. I know my way around key management; what you do with the key afterwards is your business :-)

Comment by DanArmak on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-03-30T15:04:23.076Z · LW · GW

Online identity theft is not at all the same as stealing a private key / crypto wallet, and has a very different threat profile.

Comment by DanArmak on Bureaucracy is a world of magic · 2021-03-30T12:56:56.561Z · LW · GW

for example the built-in assumption that it's somehow harder for me to steal your private key than to fake your ID

I do think it can be much harder. I'm curious why we have different expectations.

There are two important differences between the two. Faking an ID depends only on your skills and resources. I can't invest resources in making it more difficult for you. But I can protect my private key or wallet better if I need to, trading security for inconvenience.

Also, IDs are verified by people, who can make different mistakes. You can keep trying different people, and different ways of using the fake ID. Whereas a key is either leaked or it isn't. A single point of weakness is easier to defend.

Comment by DanArmak on Conspicuous saving · 2021-03-20T23:00:22.355Z · LW · GW

In the case of cars, people will say, "I have a car so that I can go from point A to point B." A house "is there so that I have shelter to live in." Clothes are "to protect me from the elements."

Luxury / sports cars aren't for going from A to B faster. Luxury houses and designer dresses aren't for shelter or protection from the elements.

Jewelry (and expensive watches, etc) does have an additional element where in some (many) societies, it's the traditional default for a man to buy them for a woman. So when you see a woman with an expensive ring, you might think "rich husband" instead of or as well as "rich wife". And indeed, historically, men often owned most or all money (and land, animals, ....) while women could own jewelry (and expensive clothes, tools, art, ...). So several things are being signaled. But displaying wealth is still important - otherwise more people would sell their expensive rings after consummating the marriage.

Comment by DanArmak on Conspicuous saving · 2021-03-20T22:17:50.439Z · LW · GW

Raising and displaying your status is no different from other things you can buy. You can choose to save and invest, and use your saved money to display more status in the future. Saying "people prefer buying status to saving money" is no different from saying "people prefer buying fancy cars to saving money". Pointing out that people are buying status as well as cars doesn't explain why they consistently prefer to buy status now rather than save for status later.

Also, people definitely do buy fancy (i.e. expensive) cars. And houses, clothes, jewelry, etc. You say that people "don't want to be seen as bragging", but when someone wears a $100,000 diamond wedding ring, what else is that but bragging?

A fancy car, house, or suit can claim to be more comfortable and feature-full than a cheap one, but rings all feel pretty much the same to wear. The whole point of conspicuous consumption is that people do like to brag. And we do have expensive ornaments without another function, like jewelry.

Comment by DanArmak on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-03-07T22:21:50.090Z · LW · GW

After thinking this over, this effect may be due to hangovers. I don't drink myself, so I don't really know this firsthand, but in stories there's always someone saying "I shouldn't drink more tonight, I have work / school tomorrow."

Or even more prosaically, "I shouldn't drink more tonight, I need to drive home (and I'm not a rich person who always takes a cab or has a chauffeur)".

Comment by DanArmak on Book Notes: Scaling, Why is Animal Size so Important? · 2021-03-07T22:06:06.023Z · LW · GW

brain size seems to be correlated with lifespan, although the author doesn’t provide guesses for why this would be.

Since so many things including brain size are all correlated (as listed in this post), any two of them (such as brain size and lifespan) are unlikely to be directly (causally) linked.

Comment by DanArmak on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-03-06T16:58:27.097Z · LW · GW

Depression and alcoholism are the opposite of "things you spend more time on, when you're rich enough not to work". People who work for a living aren't kept from alcoholism because they don't have time to drink, or can't afford even cheap alcohol. (In fact, sufferers of alcoholism, like other drug addictions, notoriously spend too much time and money on their addictions even when they can't afford to do so and keep working.)

There's a kind of spectrum between "I really want to do X but I must spend time working; if I worked less I would X more", and "I'm going to do X even though it harms my ability to work and is not sustainable, because it's just that valuable/attractive in the short term." A very simple model would say the only difference is in the short-term subjective value of X.

But more complex models tend to cash this out as different things: biological vs. psychological causes of addiction; seeking highs, vs. avoiding lows; upstream vs. downstream of conscious behavior.

Comment by DanArmak on What ethical thought experiments can be reversed? · 2021-03-06T16:18:23.765Z · LW · GW

Isn't the original argument here just the Sorites "paradox"?

  1. We don't care about killing a single fertilized human cell
  2. A human of any age is almost the same as a human of that age minus one minute
  3. Therefore we don't care about killing a human of any age

This proves too much. No ethical system I'm familiar with holds that because (physical) things change gradually over time, no moral rule can distinguish two things.

Comment by DanArmak on Economic Class · 2021-03-03T22:00:54.378Z · LW · GW

I have an impression that in the US, talking about IQ is coded politically Right. If a firm like Google tried to measure or proxy IQ in applicants, there would be a social backlash.

Comment by DanArmak on A No-Nonsense Guide to Early Retirement · 2021-02-24T18:34:35.066Z · LW · GW

Some notes:

  1. To spend little, move to a country or region with low living costs. To earn much, work in a country or an industry with large salaries. For best effect, combine these via remote work, or work for a global company which (like some giants) offers US-competitive salaries outside the US. Some companies also help existing workers with relocation.

  2. In many industries and careers, early retirement can be very hard to reverse if you decide to return to work many years later. Your knowledge and skills won't be up to date, your resume will be suspicious, and some professional licensing boards (eg medicine) may revoke your license after some years of unemployment.

  3. The future is hard to predict. Your assets may lose value. Your cost of living may rise (eg more expensive housing, new medical costs, changes to housemates). You may want to spend more money on new products invented after your retirement (eg the Internet, flying cars). You may just want to change your lifestyle, or go on more vacations.

    In such cases, it will probably be easier to increase your income (or reduce your expenses) if you're still working, compared to returning to work after having retired. And so, when planning to retire on $X savings, it's dangerous to set X to exactly what you calculate you'll need. It's safer to save more, perhaps much more, than you think you'll strictly need, before retiring.

Comment by DanArmak on What are the most powerful lotuses? · 2021-02-21T19:44:22.366Z · LW · GW

How many people have a preexisting tendency towards overuse of these substances that is kept in check by the need to get up on time for work and be reasonably productive and presentable at work?

This implies that rich people who don't (or don't need to) work for their living will spend much more time on drugs, alcohol and porn, because they can afford to. Is that the case?

Comment by DanArmak on Google’s Ethical AI team and AI Safety · 2021-02-21T19:39:03.412Z · LW · GW

Two comments on your model, both leading to the same conclusion that even if Google had an AI Ethics panel with good recommendations, teams that might produce AGI would not implement them:

Not being stopped

To prevent a bad end, the first aligned AGI must also prevent the creation of any future possibly-unaligned (or differently aligned) AGIs. This is implied by some formulations of AGI (e.g. converging instrumental goals) but it's good to state it explicitly. Let's call this "AGI conquers the world".

A team good enough to build an aligned AGI, is likely also good enough to foresee that it might conquer the world. Once this becomes known, in a company the size of Google, enough people would strongly disapprove that it would be leaked outside the company, and then the project would be shut down or taken over by external forces.

Building an AGI that might take over the world can only work if it's kept very secret - harder in a company like Google than in a small company or in a secretive government agency - or if noone outside the project believes it can succeed. In either case, an AI ethics committee wouldn't intervene.

Value alignment

Suppose that the AI Alignment problem is solved. The solution is public, easy to implement, and proven correct. However, the values to align to still need to be chosen; they are independent of the solution.

There will still be teams competing to build the first AGI. Each team will align its AGI with its own values. (Ignore for the moment disagreements between team members.) But what does that mean in practice - who gets to choose these values? The programmers? Middle management? The CEO? The President? The AI Ethics committee?

Any public attempt to agree on values will generate a huge, unsolvable political storm. Faced with a chance to control our future lightcone, humans will argue about democracy, religion, and the unfair firing of Dr Gebru. Meanwhile, anyone who thinks they can influence the values in their favor will have the biggest imaginable incentive to do so. This includes, of course, use of force and potential sabotage of the project.

(For sabotage, read nuclear first strike. If you think that's unlikely, consider how e.g. the US military might react if they truly believe a Chinese company is about to develop a singleton AGI. Or how Israel might react if they believe that about Iran.)

Therefore, any team who thinks they are building an AGI and realises the implications will do their best to stay secret. Which means not revealing yourself to the Google AI Ethics panel. They might still implement ethics or alignment, but they would be equally likely to implement things published outside Google.

Meanwhile, any team that doesn't realize they are building an AGI, will probably not be able to make it aligned, even with the best ethics advice. They will take the perfect solution to alignment and use it with a value like "maximize user engagement with our ads (over the future lightcone of humanity)".

Comment by DanArmak on How could natural language look like if it hadn't evolved from speech? · 2021-02-09T21:02:18.564Z · LW · GW

Our languages are symbolic: the sound of a word isn't related to its meaning. A visual language could instead be literal. You don't need to invent or learn a word for "bear" if you can show the image of a bear instead.

A simple visual language (no abstract concepts, no tenses, no nesting) probably doesn't require human intelligence. If an animal can recognize something in reality, then it can recognize that same thing in an image. Thus animals could tell each other about food, predators, locations, and events, and they could coordinate much better, and also try to deceive each other. This language would work across species, since images are universal.

The visual cortex can already "visualize" mental images, so it's not implausible that it could "project" them externally if it had a projector attached.

A human-intelligence-level language gradually evolved from such beginnings might not use abstract concepts the same way we do. For example, cats and dogs exist and are easy to picture, but the general concept of an "animal" doesn't have a natural visual representation. Our solution of introducing an arbitrary memorized symbol or word is not an obvious or forced one. And gradual language evolution, keeping some mutual intelligibility with other species, would probably have different constraints and a different result than the rapid evolution of a novel concept that your own sister species cannot understand.

Comment by DanArmak on Covid 12/31: Meet the New Year · 2021-01-12T16:24:22.693Z · LW · GW

Good news. On January 10th it was reported we got another vaccine shipment from Pfizer and are back on track to vaccinate everyone over 16 years old by the end of March, and hopefully to continue lowering the minimum age after that to 12 or below. Vaccination is now open to everyone over 55 years old.

Comment by DanArmak on Covid 12/31: Meet the New Year · 2021-01-03T16:05:28.850Z · LW · GW

Three days ago, nearly the same day Zvi posted this, it was announced that Israel will stop vaccination between Jan. 10th and Feb. 1st, because there are not enough doses. During these three weeks, all available doses will be used to give people their second shots.

While the lack of doses is not the Israeli government's fault, this was surely foreseeable; not communicating this earlier (before Jan 30th) will further reduce confidence in the government. When vaccinations resume, I expect people to fight more over their place in line, because they'll be afraid of another pause.

The option of delaying the second dose has been proposed; so far the politicians seem to be against it. Also, one of our higher ranking doctors came out against it with a wonderful quote (idem, emphasis mine):

Prof. Galia Rahav, head of the Infectious Disease Department at the Sheba Medical Center, Israel's largest hospital, said [...] "We are in the midst of an outbreak and cannot afford to experiment on people," she said. "If we were to give just one dose, it would be as if we have done nothing," she said.

It's a good thing Zvi only manages the Delenda Est club for the US, or it would take up most of his posts.

Some numbers: as of yesterday (Jan 2nd), we have vaccinated 1.09 million people, 12.59% of the population. The average vaccination rate for the past week (27.12-03.01) was 81,200 vaccinations per day (more on weekdays, less on the weekend). If this continues for another week, we'll have vaccinated 1.65 million people, or 19% of the population, with a single dose. A good start, and perhaps enough to make a significant change in outcome for the vulnerable populations who were vaccinated, but I assume it's far from enough to drive R below 1.

Disclosure: I am Israeli, and in a prioritized category (chronic illness). I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on 1.1.2021.

Comment by DanArmak on Hedonic asymmetries · 2020-11-18T12:48:44.918Z · LW · GW

 it's unclear why the brain would develop the capacity to process pain drastically more intense than this

The brain doesn't have the capacity to correctly process extreme pain. That's why it becomes unresponsive or acts counterproductively. 

The brain has the capacity to perceive extreme pain. This might be because:

  • The brain has many interacting subsystems; the one(s) that react to pain stop working before the ones that perceive it
  • The range of perceivable pain (that is, the range in which we can distinguish stronger from weaker pain) is determined by implementation details of the neural system. If there was an evolutionary benefit to increasing the range, we would expect that to happen. But if the range is greater than necessary, that doesn't mean there's an evolutionary benefit to decreasing it; the simplest/most stable solution stays in place.
Comment by DanArmak on Hedonic asymmetries · 2020-11-14T19:05:04.357Z · LW · GW

I'm unsure that "extreme" would necessarily get a more robust response

I meant robust in the sense of decreasing the number of edge cases where the pain is insufficiently strong to motivate the particular individual as strongly as possible. (Since pain tolerance is variable, etc.) Evolution "wants" pain to be a robust feedback/control mechanism that reliably causes the desired amount of avoidance - in this case, the greatest possible amount.

there comes a point where the pain becomes disabling.

That's an excellent point. Why would evolution allow (i.e. not select against) the existence of disabling pain (and fear, etc)? 

Presumably, in the space of genotypes available for selection - in the long term view, and for animals besides humans - there are no cheap solutions that would have an upper cut-off to pain stimuli (below the point of causing unresponsiveness) without degrading the avoidance response to lower levels of pain.

There is also the cutoff argument: a (non-human) animal can't normally survive e.g. the loss of a limb, so it doesn't matter how much pain exactly it feels in that scenario. Some cases of disabling pain fall in this category. 

Finally, evolution can't counteract human ingenuity in torture, because humans act on much smaller timescales. It is to be expected that humans who are actively trying to cause pain (or to imagine how to do so) will succeed in causing amounts of pain beyond most anything found in nature.

Comment by DanArmak on Rationalist Town Hall: Pandemic Edition · 2020-10-25T09:32:49.385Z · LW · GW

The Facebook event page gives the time as 9 PM UTC – 11 PM UTC.

Comment by DanArmak on Rationalist Town Hall: Pandemic Edition · 2020-10-23T11:47:02.150Z · LW · GW

Sunday November 1st, 12:00PM (PT) to 14:00PM (PT)

Can you please give the time in UTC? I don't trust myself to figure out whether daylight savings time applies to you.

Comment by DanArmak on Rationalist Town Hall: Pandemic Edition · 2020-10-23T11:37:56.443Z · LW · GW

What about cross-strain immunity? And how well do we know how many different strains there are, which of them are circulating where, different outcomes etc?

Comment by DanArmak on Jam is obsolete · 2020-07-26T16:40:51.795Z · LW · GW

Keeping food frozen costs money. It also risks spoilage if the freezing temporarily fails, which is hard to test for later. If jam is obsolete, it's only for sufficiently rich first world families.

Also, many people like sweet spreads and use jams regardless of their preservation properties.

Comment by DanArmak on Could we use current AI methods to understand dolphins? · 2020-03-25T16:49:43.422Z · LW · GW

I think the disparity in number of words is proportionally so large that this method won't work. The (small) hypothetical set of dolphin words wouldn't match to a small subset of English words, because what's being matched is really the (embedded) structure of the relationship between the words, and any sufficiently small subset of English words loses most of its interesting structure because its 'real' structure relates it to many words outside that subset.

Support that dolphins (hypothetically! counterfactually! not realistically!) use only 10 words to talk about fish, but humans use 100 words to do the same. I expect you can't match the relationship structure of the 10 dolphin words to the much more complex structure of the 100 human words. But no subset of ~10 English words out of the 100 is a meaningful subset that humans could use to talk about fish.

Comment by DanArmak on Could we use current AI methods to understand dolphins? · 2020-03-22T15:12:19.935Z · LW · GW

The approach of the linked article tries to match words meaning the same thing across languages by separately building a vector embedding of each language corpus and then looking for structural (neighborhood) similarity between the embeddings, with an extra global 'rotation' step mapping the two vector spaces on one another.

So if both languages have a word for "cat", and many other words related to cats, and the relationship between these words is the same in both languages (e.g. 'cat' is close to 'dog' in a different way than it is close to 'food'), then these words can be successfully translated.

But if one language has a tiny vocabulary compared to the other one, and the vocabulary isn't even a subset of the other language's (dolphins don't talk about cats), then you can't get far. Unless you have an English training dataset that only uses words that do have translations in Dolphin. But we don't know what dolphins talk about, so we can't build this dataset.

Also, this is machine learning on text with distinct words; do we even have a 'separate words' parser for dolphin signals?

Comment by DanArmak on Good News: the Containment Measures are Working · 2020-03-17T15:22:07.095Z · LW · GW
I think you are absolutely right.

I'm not quite that sure I'm right. (I was genuinely asking about the mechanism, not claiming there isn't one!) I am not an expert and there are other epidemics that die out without having infected most of the population, like indeed seasonal flu and cold, and I don't know all the causes of that that might apply here.

End result will be less casualties but longer pandemic.

It could be worse; 'less overall casualties' relies on the reasonable but unproven assumptions of:

  • Reliable natural immunization, i.e. people won't (often) catch it twice
  • Few or no mutations that act as a 'second wave' or in the extreme case like the seasonal flu that happens every year
  • (Most) people with light/no symptoms don't end up with long term complications, or a persistent virus that can reactivate later
Comment by DanArmak on Good News: the Containment Measures are Working · 2020-03-17T10:32:46.686Z · LW · GW
Moreover, the worst of the pandemic, or at least of this first wave, will be over in 2-3 months, as long as the containment measures are in place,

What's the mechanism behind the slowing growth? When we let up on our measures (quarantine etc) why will the growth not speed up again, until most of the population have been exposed?

Comment by DanArmak on Coming Back to Biking · 2020-03-07T17:47:28.463Z · LW · GW

If you don't mind the expense, you might want to consider an electric bike; I found them to be just as fun to ride as regular ones. You can set the e-assist level low enough to exert serious effort when you want to, or just turn off the engine entirely, and conversely set it high if you're tired or your knees hurt.

Comment by DanArmak on Coming Back to Biking · 2020-03-07T17:43:29.860Z · LW · GW

I found a dropper post to be a great help with that. It's much easier to figure out the right height while riding and not having to dismount to adjust it. And anecdotally, it sometimes feels better to adjust it up or down by 5-10 millimeters, maybe due to different clothes or shoes or posture or surface grade.

Note: even the cheapest dropper posts costs around 100 euro (from a cursory Google search). People who aim for cheap bikes often don't consider them. If you can afford it, consider if it would be a small investment into your comfort and longer-term health.