Should we be spending no less on alternate foods than AI now? 2017-10-30T00:13:34.877Z


Comment by denkenberger on What risks from vaccines? · 2020-12-16T22:11:43.598Z · LW · GW

Comparing to other vaccines is helpful. But what about a more outside view of new medical treatments? I'm not sure what the reference class should be, but I think the fact that the mRNA vaccine has never been used before should give us pause.

Comment by denkenberger on Covid 9/10: Vitamin D · 2020-09-29T18:06:08.999Z · LW · GW

Maybe the most effective thing would be if there were a vitamin D futures market, to bid up the price to incite more production of it. But at the individual level, I think it makes sense to stock up to increase the price a little bit. If you don't end up needing it, you could always give/sell it to those who do later. The one I bought is good for 1.5 years.

Comment by denkenberger on Covid 9/10: Vitamin D · 2020-09-29T02:59:45.040Z · LW · GW

Another interesting piece of evidence is a study on homeless people in Boston (who would likely not be vitamin D deficient because more outdoor time):

"100% of 147 COVID-19 positive subjects were asymptomatic."

Source, which doesn't really make the connection: 
Baggett, T. P., Keyes, H., Sporn, N. & Gaeta, J. M. COVID-19 outbreak at a large homeless shelter in
Boston: Implications for universal testing. medRxiv 2020.04.12.20059618 (2020)

Comment by denkenberger on Covid 9/10: Vitamin D · 2020-09-27T17:39:47.127Z · LW · GW

I have estimated global vitamin D3 production to be a few tons per year, so at US RDA of 600 UI, we could only provide about 3% of the global population. At your suggestion of 5000 UI/day, it would only be about 0.3% of people. This is why I looked into quickly scaling up vitamin D production. The most promising appeared to be seaweed, but we could not get anyone excited about doing it before there was a shortage. Fortunately, just mega dosing of those testing positive appears to be within our global D3 production capability at current infection rate. However, if we let it run through the population, I don't think we would have sufficient supplies at current production.

Comment by denkenberger on We run the Center for Applied Rationality, AMA · 2019-12-26T00:26:10.107Z · LW · GW

Note that that statistic is how long people have been in their current job, not how long they will stay in their current job total. If everyone stayed in their jobs for 40 years, and you did a survey of how long people have been in their job, the median will come out to 20 years. I have not found hard data for the number we actually want, but this indicates that the median time that people stay in their jobs is about eight years, though it would be slightly shorter for younger people.

Comment by denkenberger on AGI safety and losing electricity/industry resilience cost-effectiveness · 2019-11-19T03:57:50.415Z · LW · GW

I like your succinct way of restating the case for spending some money on catastrophes other than AI.
It is possible that a loss of industry could be beneficial in the long term. One can adjust the moral hazard parameter to take into account this possibility. However, it does subject us to more natural risk like supervolcanic eruptions and asteroid/comet impacts. And if we actually lost anthropological civilization, we would not be doing any AI safety work. Even just losing industry for a long time I think would make most AI safety work not feasible, but I am interested in your thoughts. Without industry, we would not be able to afford nearly as many researchers. And they would just be doing math on paper.

Comment by denkenberger on David C Denkenberger on Food Production after a Sun Obscuring Disaster · 2017-09-20T21:39:25.059Z · LW · GW

This could potentially help many decades in the future. But it would need to be an order of magnitude or more reduction in energy costs for this to produce a lot of food. And I am particularly concerned about one of these catastrophes happening in the next decade.

Comment by denkenberger on David C Denkenberger on Food Production after a Sun Obscuring Disaster · 2017-09-20T21:29:35.604Z · LW · GW

Grains are all from the same family-grass. It is conceivable that a malicious actor could design a pathogen(s) that kills all grains. Or maybe it would become an endemic disease that would decrease the vigor of the plants permanently. I'm not arguing that any of these non-recovery scenarios are too likely. However, if together they represent 10% probability, and if there is a 10% probability of the sun being blocked this century, and a 10% probability of civilization collapsing if the sun is blocked, this would be a one in 1000 chance of an existential catastrophe from agricultural catastrophes this century. This is worth some effort to reduce.

Comment by denkenberger on David C Denkenberger on Food Production after a Sun Obscuring Disaster · 2017-09-20T21:19:12.302Z · LW · GW

Sorry for my voice recognition software error-I now have fixed it. It turns out that if you want to store enough food to feed 7 billion people for five years, it would cost tens of trillions of dollars. What I am proposing is spending tens of millions of dollars for targeted research and development and planning. The idea is that we would not have to spend a lot of money on emergency use only machinery. I use the example of the United States before World War II-it hardly produced any airplanes. But once it entered World War II, it retrofitted the car manufacturing plants to produce airplanes very quickly. I am targeting food sources that could be ramped up very quickly with not very much preparation (in months, see graph here. The easiest killed leaves (for human food) to collect would be agricultural residues with existing farm equipment. For leaves shed naturally (leaf litter), we could release cows into forests. I also analyze logistics in the book, and it would be technically feasible. Note that these catastrophes would only destroy regional infrastructure. However, the big assumption is that there would still be international cooperation. Without these alternative food sources, most people would die, so it would likely be in the best interest of many countries to initiate conflicts. However, if countries knew that they could actually benefit by cooperating and trading and ideally feed everyone, cooperation is more likely (though of course not guaranteed). So you could think of this as a peace project.

Comment by denkenberger on David C Denkenberger on Food Production after a Sun Obscuring Disaster · 2017-09-20T13:07:59.388Z · LW · GW

In the case of the sun being blocked by comet impact, super volcanic eruption, or full-scale nuclear war with the burning of cities, there would be local devastation, but the majority of global industry would function. Most of our energy is not dependent on the sun. So it turns out the biggest problem is food, and arable land would not be valuable. Extracting human edible calories from leaves would only work for those leaves that were green when the catastrophe happened. They could provide about half a year of food for everyone, or more realistically 10% of food for five years.

I also work on the catastrophes that could disrupt electricity globally, such as an extreme solar storm, multiple high-altitude detonations of nuclear weapons around the world creating electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), and a super computer virus. Since nearly everything is dependent on electricity, this means we lose fossil fuel production and industry. In this case, energy is critical, but there are ways of dealing with it. So the food problem still turns out to be quite important (the sun is still shining, but we don't have fossil fuel based tractors, fertilizers and pesticides), though there are solutions for that.

Comment by denkenberger on David C Denkenberger on Food Production after a Sun Obscuring Disaster · 2017-09-19T23:34:22.139Z · LW · GW

Here is an analysis of nutrition of a variety of alternate foods. Leaf protein concentrate is actually more promising than leaf tea. No one has tried a diet of only alternate foods - that would be a good experiment to run. With a variety, the weight is not too high. Yes, we are hoping that some of these ideas will be viable present day, because then we can get early investment.

Comment by denkenberger on David C Denkenberger on Food Production after a Sun Obscuring Disaster · 2017-09-19T16:15:16.144Z · LW · GW

Thank you, Jennifer, for the introduction. Some more background on me: I have read the sequences and the foom debate. In 2011, I tried to do cost-effectiveness scoping for all causes inspired by Yudkowsky's scope and neglectedness framework (the scope, neglectedness, and tractability framework had not yet been invented). I am concerned about AI risk, and have been working with Alexey Turchin. I am primarily motivated by existential risk reduction. If we lose anthropological civilization (defined by cooperation outside the clan), we may not recover for the following reasons:

• Easily accessible fossil fuels and minerals exhausted

• Don’t have the stable climate of last 10,000 years

• Lose trust or IQ permanently

• Endemic disease prevents high population density

• Permanent loss of grains precludes high population density

Not recovering is a form of existential risk (not realizing our potential), and we might actually go extinct because of a supervolcano or asteroid after losing civilization. Because getting prepared (research and development of non-sunlight dependent foods such as mushrooms and natural gas digesting bacteria, and planning) is so cost-effective for the present generation, I think it will be a very cost effective way of reducing existential risk.

Comment by denkenberger on David C Denkenberger on Food Production after a Sun Obscuring Disaster · 2017-09-19T15:57:40.915Z · LW · GW

I have done some work on refuges. However, I am most interested in saving nearly everyone and preventing the loss of civilization. This turns out to be cost effective even if one only cares about the present generation. I am currently working on cost effectiveness from a far future perspective.

Comment by denkenberger on David C Denkenberger on Food Production after a Sun Obscuring Disaster · 2017-09-19T15:50:46.397Z · LW · GW

Yes, here is a fault tree analysis of nuclear war. And here is one for AI.

Comment by denkenberger on David C Denkenberger on Food Production after a Sun Obscuring Disaster · 2017-09-19T12:56:29.795Z · LW · GW

I am happy to do an AMA.