Humans, chimpanzees and other animals 2023-05-30T23:53:08.295Z
On "aiming for convergence on truth" 2023-04-11T18:19:18.086Z
Large language models learn to represent the world 2023-01-22T13:10:38.837Z
Suspiciously balanced evidence 2020-02-12T17:04:20.516Z
"Future of Go" summit with AlphaGo 2017-04-10T11:10:40.249Z
Buying happiness 2016-06-16T17:08:53.802Z
AlphaGo versus Lee Sedol 2016-03-09T12:22:53.237Z
[LINK] "The current state of machine intelligence" 2015-12-16T15:22:26.596Z
Scott Aaronson: Common knowledge and Aumann's agreement theorem 2015-08-17T08:41:45.179Z
Group Rationality Diary, March 22 to April 4 2015-03-23T12:17:27.193Z
Group Rationality Diary, March 1-21 2015-03-06T15:29:01.325Z
Open thread, September 15-21, 2014 2014-09-15T12:24:53.165Z
Proportional Giving 2014-03-02T21:09:07.597Z
A few remarks about mass-downvoting 2014-02-13T17:06:43.216Z
[Link] False memories of fabricated political events 2013-02-10T22:25:15.535Z
[LINK] Breaking the illusion of understanding 2012-10-26T23:09:25.790Z
The Problem of Thinking Too Much [LINK] 2012-04-27T14:31:26.552Z
General textbook comparison thread 2011-08-26T13:27:35.095Z
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 4 2010-10-07T21:12:58.038Z
The uniquely awful example of theism 2009-04-10T00:30:08.149Z
Voting etiquette 2009-04-05T14:28:31.031Z
Open Thread: April 2009 2009-04-03T13:57:49.099Z


Comment by gjm on Buy Nothing Day is a great idea with a terrible app— why has nobody built a killer app for crowdsourced 'effective communism' yet? · 2023-12-04T13:21:28.130Z · LW · GW

Not only do I share your guess that the main effect of a buy-nothing day is to shift rather than remove purchasing, I can't escape a cynical suspicion that the idea of a "Buy Nothing Day", on a day when major retailers have particularly low prices, might originally have been seeded by those retailers in an attempt to get people to feel good about Not Contributing To Capitalism when what's actually happening is that they buy the same things but at different times and hence at higher prices.

(I think that probably isn't what happened. But I wouldn't bet against it at 10:1 odds.)

Comment by gjm on Stupid Question: Why am I getting consistently downvoted? · 2023-12-01T14:36:35.286Z · LW · GW

Except that Ramanujan sent letters (of course) rather than emails; the difference is important because writing letters to N people is a lot more work than sending emails to N people, so getting a letter from someone is more evidence that they're willing to put some effort into communicating with you than getting an email from them is.

Comment by gjm on [deleted post] 2023-11-28T21:37:01.114Z

I don't think those paragraphs indicate that Scott wouldn't agree. (I don't know for sure that he would agree either, but I don't think those paragraphs tell us much.)

Comment by gjm on [deleted post] 2023-11-28T15:04:04.978Z

I don't think Scott ever claims that changing the words we use for minority groups is a bad thing overall.

His post is not only about changing the words for minority groups, and he explicitly says that the sort of change he's talking about sometimes happens for excellent reasons (he gives the example of how "Jap" became offensive in the 1950s).

Comment by gjm on [deleted post] 2023-11-28T15:01:13.632Z

I wrote a lengthy reply, but I find that I also want to say something briefer.

The specific claims you made in the great-grandparent of this comment were that "this [sc. previously inoffensive words becoming taboo] has never actually happened in history" and that "Words become taboo because they are used offensively". And the specific thing I challenged you on is whether that is in fact why "black" became taboo.

(Of course on Scott's account the final stage of the process is "because they are used offensively". What you disagree with is whether that's how it starts.)

Your comment doesn't offer any evidence that the switch from "negro" to "black" happened because "negro" was being used offensively. I would be very interested in evidence that it did.

Comment by gjm on [deleted post] 2023-11-28T14:51:13.031Z

I don't think anyone is claiming that SC/KT invented the term "black"! (It goes back much much further than MLK in 1963. The earliest citation in the OED that's clearly basically the same usage as we have now is from 1667; there are others that might be basically the same usage as we have now from centuries before.)

But I think it's generally held that it was SC/KT's activism beginning in 1966 that led to the change from "negro" being the usual term and "black" being the usual term.

I agree that the relevant question is something like "which was used more for racism". More precisely, something like "for which was the (racist use) / (non-racist use) ratio higher", or maybe something harder to express that gives more weight to more severely racist uses. (Consider The Word Which Is Not Exactly "Negro"; that may actually have a rather low racist/nonracist ratio because of its use within black communities and its extreme taboo-ness outside, but when someone uses it for racism they're probably being more drastically racist than, say, someone who is slightly less inclined to hire black candidates[1].)

[1] I'm not, to be clear, saying that the less-drastic racism doesn't matter. It may well, in the aggregate, be more of a problem than the more-drastic racism, if there's enough more of it. When I say things like "more severe" I am referring to the severity of one particular instance.

Do you have communicable reasons for your guess that "black" was less often used in a racist way? I don't have strong opinions on that point myself.

It doesn't seem at all true that "black" was a label of endogenous origin. White people were using "black" to talk about black people at least as far back as the 17th century, and I don't see any reason to think that they got that usage by listening to how black people talked about one another.

Of course, once SC/KT persuaded a lot of people that they should use "black", it became a label of endogenous origin, not in the sense that the word originated among black people but in the sense that the push for its widespread use came from among black people. That's a reason for us to use it now, but not so much a reason why "black" was better than "negro" at the time. (I'm not very sure about this. Maybe it was. If so, we would have to say that if SC/KT had decided that "negro" was the better term and written things like "We must refuse to be called black, the colour of darkness and night and evil and ignorance, and wear proudly the name of Negro, for it alone refers to our whole race and nothing but", and a bunch of others had been persuaded, then "negro" would have been better than "black" because it was "of endogenous origin" in just the same way. In other words, any complaint along the lines of "So-and-so just arbitrarily decided that we should all use word A rather than word B, and that's not a good reason why word B should become unusable" is (provided so-and-so is from the group being referred to) necessarily invalid. I'm not sure how I feel about that idea.

I very much agree that if the word most commonly used to describe a group of people is widely used offensively[2], and that group wants to adopt a new term, then everyone else should[3] go along with that. (There will likely be a "slur cascade" of the type Scott describes at the tail end of the process, but I don't think that's any sort of problem; the trouble with "slur cascades" isn't that there's something specially evil about the process but that it can impose a change even when there isn't any other good reason for the change, which wouldn't be the case in this scenario.)

[2] Meaning that the word itself is used to insult/belittle/threaten/...; I don't think things are so clear-cut if the situation is just that the group is hated and this word is the one everyone uses to describe them, haters and non-haters alike. There could be some value in a new word to get away from the negative associations caused by the haters, but if the haters are still there and still hating then most likely all that will happen is that the new word gets the same associations as the old; maybe better first to do something about the haters and then to adopt a new word without the baggage.

[3] Aside for stupid cases where there's something specially unreasonable about the new term -- imagine SC/KT saying "Henceforth we shall be known as the Masters of the Universe". This sort of thing is hardly ever a real issue, of course.

I mostly agree with your reasons, except that I'm not so sure that "endogenous group labels seem to have incredible longevity"; I don't think we have that much data, and while "black" and "gay" have persisted pretty well there was a time when it seemed very possible that "African-American" (and obvious variants outside America) would take over, in which case "black" would surely have become offensive.

In any case, so far as I can tell no one is arguing that we should start calling black people "Negroes" again. That would be a terrible idea even if the process by which everyone switched from "Negro" to "black" had been a pure "slur cascade". I think the questions that actually matter are (1) how often do these "slur cascades" happen, (2) are the changes involved generally good or bad ones aside from the slur cascade, and (3) how should we respond?

It still isn't clear to me how slur-cascade-y the "Negro"->"black" switch was, but that switch is already done. But what about "blacklist" (allegedly perpetuates negative associations with "black"), "the poor" (allegedly dehumanizing), "Latin{a,o}" (allegedly more sexist than "Latinx"), "field work" (allegedly potentially distressing to people whose ancestors were enslaved and forced to work in fields), "master copy" (allegedly potentially distressing to people whose ancestors were enslaved and forced to work for masters), etc.? Scott proposes that when faced with such a word we (1) evaluate whether it's actually doing any harm -- as he agrees "Jap" was in the 1950s and doesn't think "field work" is now -- and then (2) if it seems harmless-in-itself, resist the cascade until say 70% of the way down.

You might want to add (1.5) also evaluate whether what's going on is that some group of people wants to be referred to differently, and then (2') generally don't resist in that case even if no harm is apparent, because (a) maybe there's harm you haven't noticed and (b) giving people what they want is usually good. I'd certainly be on board with that. (I suspect Scott would too.)

I guess a large part of our disagreement here is that you're framing Scott's post as being all about names for minority groups and I don't think it is. Some of the (real and hypothetical) examples he uses are about names for minority groups ("Jap", "negro/black", "Asian"); some aren't (some aren't even words -- he mentions slogans like "all lives matter", images like Confederate flags, actions like eating at Chick-Fil-A, etc.; but also labels like "fieldwork" and "the French" which aren't names of minority groups[4].)

[4] Well, I suppose technically the French are a minority group, in that most people are not French. But they aren't an identifiable group within a larger society who are frequently subject to discrimination and persecution on account of belonging to that group.

Comment by gjm on [deleted post] 2023-11-28T01:17:36.513Z

As mentioned in another comment, I think it's pretty plausible that various things in Scott's account of what happened with "negro" and "black" are wrong. But it doesn't currently look plausible to me that the switch between them happened because "negro" was being used offensively. Do you disagree? I don't have strong evidence and I think could be readily persuaded if you happen to have some. I mostly think the switch wasn't caused by widespread offensive use of "negro" because none of the things I've seen written about it says anything of the kind. To be clear, I'm sure that many racists used the term "negro" while being racist before 1966, just as many racists use the term "black" while being racist now. But I'm not aware of reason to think that "negro" was preferentially used by racists before the n->b shift.

(It may well be that racists did preferentially use "negro" rather than "black" in the later parts of the process, as a result of the mechanism Scott describes, but obviously that wouldn't be an argument against his position. So I take it you mean that there was widespread offensive use of "negro" before the switch from "negro" to "black", rather than only once the switch was underway as predicted by Scott's analysis.)

Comment by gjm on [deleted post] 2023-11-28T00:47:07.369Z

My own cursory reading mostly leaves me aware that I don't really know a lot of important things about how the process happened.

It seems clearly correct that before about 1966 pretty much everyone, of every race and political persuasion, was using "Negro" as the default term. Scott says "fifty years ago" and I think he must have meant sixty (50 years ago was 1973, by which time the process was mostly complete) but otherwise I think he's plainly right about this.

It seems generally agreed that Stokely Carmichael / Kwame Ture was the key mover in getting "Negro" toppled and "black" replacing it, and that this process started in 1966 with his famous "Black Power" speech (in which I don't think he makes any particular argument about "black" versus "Negro", but he uses "black" throughout).

In his book, SC/KT claims that "there is a growing resentment" of the term "Negro". Maybe that was true and he was more a symptom than a cause of the shift in preferences. Or maybe he just said it for the same reason as Donald Trump loves to say "a lot of people are saying ...".

It's hard to tell what the actual mechanism was. It must have been some combination of (1) people being convinced by SC/KT's arguments that the term "Negro" was "the invention of our oppressor" and therefore describes "_his_ image of us", and that "black" is therefore better; (2) black people trying out "black" and, separately from any arguments about the theoretical merits, just liking it better than "negro"; (3) people just imitating other people because that's a thing people do; (4) white people switching to "black" because (in reality and/or their perception) black people preferred it; (5a) people wanting to use a term that was increasingly a signifier of being in favour of social justice and civil rights; and (5b) people not wanting to use a term that was increasingly a signifier of not being in favour of social justice and civil rights.

Scott's post is about both branches of mechanism 5. It's hard for the process to get started that way. (There can't be much social pressure to use term X rather than term Y if hardly anyone is using term Y yet. You could get a situation where the use of Y begins within some small but influential group, and takes over larger and larger groups by mechanism 5a and then 5b. But I doubt that's common.) I don't think it can avoid finishing that way. (Consider the situation now. If someone showed me an incredibly persuasive argument that "negro" was really a much better term to use for black people than "black", I almost certainly wouldn't start using it however convinced I was, because if I did I would immediately be branded a racist. That's mechanism 5b.)

So. I assume the negro->black switch got started by mechanism 1 (that being the one that works most effectively before there are a bunch of people already using the new term) and then continued by some combination of all the mechanisms, with an increasing amount of 5b in the mix as the transition proceeded.

... Which leaves so many questions whose answers are (I think) unclear.

  • Was the process in this case a bad thing overall, as we should probably expect on Scott's model? (Bad: risk of mis-classifying people as racist whose only sin was not to adjust their language quickly enough; inconvenience during the transition; awkwardness after the transition of reading material written before it. Good: morale-boosting effects on black people of feeling that they were using a term of their own choosing and taking more control of their own destiny; if SC/KT was correct about "negro" bringing along unwanted associations etc., then some degree of escape from those associations.)
  • Was there actually anything to SC/KT's claim that the term "negro" was more "the invention of our oppressor" than "black", or his suggestion that using "black" was a way of escaping unwelcome and unfair stereotypes? (My guess, and I think also Scott's, is no to both. But I could easily be wrong. And of course if a community has internalized hostile stereotyping, there's value in anything that feels like a reason to discard that, even if in some theoretical sense it isn't a very good reason.)
  • Was the negro->black switch actually brought about by SC/KT, as commonly believed? Or did SC/KT merely draw attention to something that was happening anyway (and maybe make it happen faster, but not change whether it happened)?
  • How much of the process was driven by mechanisms 5a and 5b, which Scott treats as the main drivers, versus mechanisms 1-4?
  • When Scott says that SC/KT picked "black" in the hope of scaring white people, is that correct at all? (I suspect that the phrase black power may have been picked with that intention, but not the word black itself, and wonder whether Scott may have misunderstood something; but I have no evidence either way.)

I haven't seen -- but, again, my reading too has been pretty cursory -- anything that answers these, and depending on the answers my opinion could be anywhere from "Scott's account is basically correct, although there are a few inaccuracies and I don't much like the tone of some of it" to "Scott's account isn't 100% wrong but the mechanism he says was the most important one was actually only relevant in the mopping-up phase once the shift had basically happened by other mechanisms, and his reasons for not wanting to go along with a 'hyperstitious slur cascade' basically don't apply here".

If your reading has turned up things that clarify some of those points, I'd be interested.

Comment by gjm on [deleted post] 2023-11-21T15:28:18.463Z

It isn't true that Scott's post doesn't say why he thinks it's bad (all else being equal) for the implications of words to shift in the way he describes.

Okay, but this process is bad, right?

Suppose someone decides tomorrow that “Asian” is a slur, and demands we call them “person of Asian descent”. Everyone agrees to go along with this for some reason, and fine, “Asian” is now a slur.

This seems bad for everybody. White people have to be on tenterhooks every time they talk to an Asian, trying their hardest to restrain from using the word they’re familiar with, and to remember the unwieldy gibberish that replaces it. If they fail, they have to feel bad, or worry that the local Asian community thinks they’re a racist. Meanwhile, Asians now have to police everyone else’s behavior, saying “Actually, that word is offensive, we prefer ‘person of Asian descent’” every time someone refers to them. When people get annoyed by this, they have to fret that the person is actually racist against them and trying to deliberately offend them. If they are the sort of person who is triggered by hearing slurs, they will have to be triggered several times a day as people adjust from the familiar language to the new. Meanwhile, dozens of organizations with names like the National Asian Alliance, Asian Community Center, or Asians For Biden will have to change their names. Old novels will need to include forewords apologizing for how in the old days people used to use insensitive terms, and we’re sorry we’re making you read a book with the word A***n in it. Some old people will refuse to change and get ostracized by society. This is just a bad time time on all sides.

Also, "it's important not to change the words we use to refer to minority groups" isn't what Scott is saying. 

There's a difference between "labels should never change" (which you say Scott is saying, but he isn't) and "the thing where a previously harmless label becomes offensive, not because it was really offensive all along, but because someone has decided to try to make it offensive and then there's a positive feedback loop, generally does more harm than good" (which he is saying).

Personally, I would want to distinguish between three variants of the "hyperstitious slur cascade". (1) A word starts being used with hostile intent, which triggers the cascade. (Think "spastic".) (2) Some other word starts being specifically favoured by the target group, so that all other words start to be used disproportionately by the hostile and prejudiced, which triggers the cascade. (If Scott's account of the history is correct, then "Negro" is somewhere intermediate between 1 and 2. I don't have a really clear-cut example of 2 to hand.) (3) Someone decides, for no very good reason, to start being offended by a word. (Think "field work", though I don't think the people who claimed that that term was offensive were actually successful in starting a hyperstition cascade.)

I would switch very early in a type-1 cascade, but later in a type-3 cascade. Type 2 is somewhere in between.

Comment by gjm on [deleted post] 2023-11-21T15:08:51.669Z

A nitpick. You say

English as spoken 500 years ago is incomprehensible gibberish to English speakers today.

It really isn't. Here's the opening of Thomas More's "Dialogue concerning Tyndale" (also called the "Dialogue concerning Heresies"), written in 1528. I've transcribed it as best I can from an old edition (set in blackletter type) to make sure I'm getting the original text rather than some modern editor's attempt to tidy it up.

It is an olde said law, that one busynes begetteth & bryngeth forth another. Whichever be as it happeth I find very trewe by my self, which have been fayne by occasion, first of one busynes, after to take the second, and upon the second, now to take the thirde.

This is not incomprehensible gibberish! The spellynge is a bit antiquated, and there are a few words some modern readers might not recognize (e.g., fayne = fain ~= inclined), but I find the meaning perfectly clear.

(Obviously this doesn't invalidate the point that every language is constantly changing and we should expect words' meanings to shift.)

Comment by gjm on How much fraud is there in academia? · 2023-11-16T18:07:01.476Z · LW · GW

That's very interesting but it's about replicability not fraud and those are (at least sometimes) very different things.

Possible counters:

1. "Not so different: results that don't replicate are probably fraudulent." I'm prepared to be persuaded but I'd be surprised if most reproducibility-failures were the result of fraud.

2. "Whatever differences between 'worse' and 'better' publications you have in mind that you'd hope would reduce fraud in the 'better' ones, you should also expect to reduce nonreplicability; apparently they don't do that, so why expect them to reduce fraud?" My impression is that a lot of nonreplicability is just "lucky": you happened to get a result with p<0.05 and so you published it, and if you'd got p>0.05 maybe you wouldn't have bothered, or maybe the fancy journal wouldn't have been interested and it would have been published somewhere worse. This mechanism will lead to nonreplicable papers being higher-profile and cited more, without there being anything much about those papers that would raise red flags if a journal is worried about fraud. So to whatever extent fraud is detectable in advance, and better journals try harder to spot it because their reputation is more valuable, better journals will tend to see less fraud but not less nonreplicability. (And: to whatever extent fraudsters expect better journals to try harder to catch fraud, they will tend to avoid publishing their fraudulent papers there.)

Comment by gjm on We are! · 2023-11-16T17:55:31.746Z · LW · GW

On (1):

It seems incredibly unlikely to me that your organization is going to make it no longer true that people have incompatible values.

If "AI alignment" is taken to mean "the AI wants exactly the same things that humans want" and hence to imply "all humans want the same things" then, sure, mutually incompatible human values => no AI alignment. But I don't think that's what any reasonable person takes "AI alignment" to mean. I would consider that we'd done a pretty good job of "AI alignment" if, say, the state of the world 20 years after the first superhuman AI was such that for all times between now and then, (1) >= 75% of living humans (would) consider the post-AI state better than the pre-AI state and (2) <= 10% of living humans (would) consider the post-AI state much worse than the pre-AI state. (Or something along those lines.) And I don't see why anything along these lines requires humans never to have incompatible values.

But never mind that: I still don't see how your coordination-market system could possibly make it no longer true that humans sometimes have incompatible values.

On (2):

I still don't see how your proposed political-reform organization would be in any way suited to issuing "AI alignment certification", if that were a thing. And, since you say "hire a world-class mechanistic interpretability team from elsewhere", it sounds as if you don't either. So I don't understand why any of that stuff is in your post; it seems entirely irrelevant to the organization you're actually hoping to build.

Comment by gjm on How much fraud is there in academia? · 2023-11-16T15:21:36.606Z · LW · GW

Not an answer but a remark: there are several different notions of "how much of the literature" -- you could ask "what fraction of all things published anyhow anywhere?" or "what fraction of all things published in reputable journals?" or "what fraction of things published in reputable journals, weighted by X?" where X is citation count or journal impact-factor or some other thing that accounts for the fact that someone looking (competently and honestly) in the academic literature will likely pay more attention to some parts of it than others.

I'd bet fairly heavily that the amount of fraud decreases quite a bit as you move along that scale.

Comment by gjm on We are! · 2023-11-16T15:06:47.460Z · LW · GW

Could you explain what exactly your organization is intending to do?

This post envisions a world where various kinds of decision-making work differently from how they work at present, and involve various mechanisms that don't currently exist. But it's not clear to what extent you're proposing (1) to try to bring that world into existence, (2) to build the mechanisms that it requires, or (3) to provide services that would be useful in that world.

It also gestures towards some sort of connection between the political reforms you propose and AI alignment, but I don't really understand what the connection is supposed to be. It seems like you hope (1) to contribute to AI alignment by "solving the human alignment problem" and thus discovering "what human values actually are", and (2) for your organization to offer "AI alignment certification". But I don't understand (1) how even a very smoothly functioning coordination-markets-and-liquid-democracy system would tell us "what human values actually are" in any sense sufficient to be relevant to AI alignment, nor (2) what "AI alignment certification" is supposed to mean or why an organization mostly dedicated to political reform would be either competent to offer it or trusted to do so.

Comment by gjm on [deleted post] 2023-11-13T22:02:29.941Z


Comment by gjm on On Overhangs and Technological Change · 2023-11-06T13:15:21.457Z · LW · GW

Roko's post is not about the general problem of incumbents facing internal conflict (which happens all the time for many reasons) but about a specific class of situation where something is ripe to be taken over by a person or group with new capabilities, and those capabilities come along and it happens.

While nuclear weapons represented a dramatic gain in capabilities for the United States, what you're talking about isn't the US using its new nuclear capabilities to overturn the world order, but internal politicking within the US military. The arrival of nuclear weapons didn't represent an unprecedented gain in politicking capabilities for one set of US military officials over another. It is not helpful to think about the "revolt of the admirals" in terms of a "(US military officials who could lose influence if a new kind of weapon comes along) overhang", so far as I can tell. There's no analogy here, just two situations that happen to be describable using the words "incumbents" and "new capabilities".

My thinking on your theories about psychological manipulation is that they don't belong in this thread, and I will not be drawn into an attempt to make this thread be about them. You've already made four posts about them in the last ~2 weeks and those are perfectly good places for that discussion.

Comment by gjm on On Overhangs and Technological Change · 2023-11-06T12:02:57.680Z · LW · GW

This doesn't seem like it actually has anything to do with the topic of the OP, unless you're proposing that the US military used nuclear weapons on each other. Your second paragraph is even less relevant it's about something you claim to be a transfomative technological advance but is not generally considered by other people to be one, and it doesn't describe any actual transformation it has brought about but merely conjectures that some people in a government agency might not have figured it out yet.

I do not think that trying to wedge your theories into places where they don't really fit will make them more likely to find agreement.

Comment by gjm on The price is right · 2023-10-17T13:58:36.952Z · LW · GW

EJT isn't asserting that COVID-19 isn't a lab-engineered disease, he's merely not asserting that it is one. Whatever the origins of COVID-19, it happens that it infected a large fraction of the population but didn't kill all untreated victims. EJT reckons it would be possible to engineer something that has both those properties. Seems simple enough.

EJT is not (so far as I can tell) making any specific proposals about what money should go to which virologists or epidemiologists or vaccine researchers or whatever. It may be true that COVID-19 came from a lab. Whether that's true or not, it may be true that some lines of disease investigation do more harm than good in expectation. In which case, we would likely do well not to pursue them. But what would be necessary to invalidate EJT's suggestion that we invest in making pandemics less likely or less harmful isn't "some research into this stuff is harmful on net", but "on average research into this stuff is harmful" or even "on average research into this stuff will be harmful even if we try very hard to direct the research in beneficial-and-not-harmful directions", and I see no reason to believe that proposition even conditional on COVID-19 having come from a lab.

(I personally think it's plausible but far from certain that COVID-19 escaped from a lab, and highly unlikely that it was engineered rather than collected in the wild and merely being kept in said lab. I haven't looked deeply into the matter and am not claiming that anyone should take my opinions on these propositions as evidence for anything; I give them merely for context.)

Comment by gjm on Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. · 2023-10-17T13:37:32.232Z · LW · GW

I was first introduced to this sort of recursive sentence construction with an example using two different words rather than one: for any n, "oysters^n split^n" is a grammatical English sentence. I find that (1) this is easier to get my head around than iterated-buffalo and (2) having grasped it makes iterated-buffalo easier to parse.

"Oysters" is a plural noun phrase. If N is a plural noun phrase then "oysters N split" is a plural noun phrase, meaning "oysters that are split open by N". So oysters^n split^(n-1) is a plural noun phrase for any positive integer n.

And then if N is a plural noun phrase then "N split" is a sentence, meaning that the things described by N split open. (Or run away quickly, but that's less likely for oysters.) So oysters^n split^n is a sentence for any positive integer n.

And now you can notice that "buffalo" is both a plural noun and a transitive verb, and furthermore a verb that can kinda-plausibly take buffalo as subject and object, which means that the first half of that construction works fine with "buffalo" taking the place of both "oysters" and "split".

(It's a little strange to use "buffalo" with subject but no object, so usually the last stage of the construction is done differently with buffalo.)

Comment by gjm on Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. · 2023-10-17T13:29:59.034Z · LW · GW

You can have unlimitedly many in a row, even without using "Buffalo" as an adjective.

Consider the noun phrase "buffalo(1) buffalo(2) buffalo(3)", meaning buffalo(1) who are buffaloed(3) by buffalo(2).

We can get more specific about who's doing the buffaloing: "buffalo(1) buffalo(21) buffalo(22) buffalo(23) buffalo3", where we have replaced "buffalo(2)" with "buffalo(21) buffalo(22) buffalo(22)" -- buffalo(21) who are buffaloed(22) by buffalo(23). Exact same structure here as in the original.

But now we can do the same to buffalo(22) as we did before to buffalo(2): "buffalo(1) buffalo(21) buffalo(221) (buffalo222) (buffalo223) buffalo(23) buffalo3". And so ad infinitum.

And then we can turn the whole thing into a sentence by appending "buffalo buffalo" (and, if we please, we can replace that last "buffalo" with a similar cascade).

This gets us buffalo-sentences of all odd lengths >= 3. If we're prepared to use buffalo (v.) without an object -- signifying that whoever-it-is buffaloes someone -- then we can take any of those noun phrases and just put "buffalo" after it, getting all lengths >= 2. Or if we're prepared to use it as an imperative, with an object but no explicit subject, then we can put "buffalo" before any of those noun phrases to get a sentence. If we are happy doing both at once then we can say "Buffalo!" as an imperative ("go harass someone!"). Or we can use it as a standalone noun: "Buffalo!" meaning "oh, hey, I just saw some buffalo"[1]. So buffalo^n is a grammatical English sentence for any positive integer n.

[1] Isn't there a visual gag in some movie where character A shouts "Duck!", character B doesn't duck but looks around in puzzlement saying "where?", and then character B is struck by a large ?inflatable? duck, or something? Same pair of meanings at play :-).

Comment by gjm on Related Discussion from Thomas Kwa's MIRI Research Experience · 2023-10-10T23:05:50.068Z · LW · GW

I'm struck by this:

There is some MIRI/Nate/Eliezer frame of the alignment problem that basically no one else has.

This might be true, and if true it might be very important. But, outside view, I think the track record of people/organizations claiming things along the lines of "we and we alone have the correct understanding of X, and your only way to understand X is to seek our wisdom" is pretty bad, and that of people/organizations about whom other people say "they and they alone have the correct understanding, etc." isn't much better.

I know that MIRI expresses concern about the dangers of spreading their understanding of things that might possibly be used to advance AI capabilities. But if an important thing they have is a uniquely insightful way of framing the alignment problem then that seems like the sort of thing that (1) is very unlikely to be dangerous to reveal, (2) could be very valuable to share with others, and (3) if so shared would (a) encourage others to take MIRI more seriously, if indeed it turns out that they have uniquely insightful ways of thinking about alignment and (b) provide opportunities to correct errors they're missing, if in fact what they have is (something like) plausible rhetoric that doesn't stand up to close critical examination.

Comment by gjm on Fifty Flips · 2023-10-02T00:44:04.713Z · LW · GW

This would be more to my taste (I can't speak for anyone else's) if we were told more about the space of possible unfairnesses. In particular, it wasn't clear to me whether

the coin flips are allowed to depend on our predictions (and, if so, which predictions)

nor whether

we were actually looking for a genuinely probabilistic rule (in which case it would have to be a very simple one for there to be any chance of guessing it) or for a deterministic one, possibly depending on the predictions (in which case it might be more complicated).

Again, I don't claim that my taste is anyone else's; but my reaction to the extreme open-endedness is along the lines of "this could be practically anything, and some varieties of thing-it-could-be are obviously not deducible with any confidence from 50 bits of information, and this has probably been designed so that it's solvable if you correctly guess what space of possibilities the creator had in mind but I don't feel like trying to read his mind".

The spoiler-blocks above aren't very spoilery since they are just asking questions. But for the benefit of anyone who feels the same way as I do, here are what I now believe to be the answers to those questions:

The coin does not know anything about your predictions; you are trying to model a thing that autonomously emits coin flips, not something that actively responds to your probing. Unsurprisingly-given-that, the coin is (at least potentially) probabilistic.

Comment by gjm on I designed an AI safety course (for a philosophy department) · 2023-09-24T03:10:00.816Z · LW · GW

Huh. So is there a course every year titled "Philosophy and the challenge of the future", with radically different content each time depending on the particular interests of whoever's lecturing that year?

Comment by gjm on I designed an AI safety course (for a philosophy department) · 2023-09-24T03:08:20.262Z · LW · GW

To what extent, if any, will this course acknowledge that some people disagree very vigorously with what I take to be the positions you're generally advocating for?

(I ask not because I think those people are right and you're wrong -- I think those people are often wrong and sometimes very silly indeed and expect I would favour your position over theirs at least 80% of the time -- but because I think it's important that your students be able to distinguish "this is uncontroversial fact about which basically no one disagrees" from "this is something I am very confident of, but if you talked to some of the other faculty they might think I'm as crazy as I think they are" from "this is my best guess and I am not terribly sure it's right", and the fact that pretty much all the required reading is from an LW-ish EA-ish perspective makes me wonder whether you're making those distinctions clearly. My apologies in advance if I turn out to be being too uncharitable, which I may well be.)

Comment by gjm on I designed an AI safety course (for a philosophy department) · 2023-09-24T02:54:45.409Z · LW · GW

This is very much not what I (or I think anyone) would expect to be in a course with the very general-sounding title "Philosophy and the challenge of the future". Is it the case that anyone choosing whether to study this will first look at the syllabus (or maybe some other document that gives a shorter summary of what's going to be in the course) and therefore not be at risk of being misled? If not, you might consider a more informative title, or maybe a subtitle. "Philosophy and the challenge of artificial intelligence". "Philosophy and the challenge of the future: hard thinking about AI". "Opportunities and threats of artificial intelligence: a philosophical perspective". Or something.

Comment by gjm on The U.S. is becoming less stable · 2023-08-22T21:40:42.008Z · LW · GW

I'm puzzled by your first paragraph. You're suggesting that up until now it has been typical for the Republican Party to believe and claim that Democrats are acting sincerely in the best interests of the US and of democracy and aren't politically motivated?

I have to say that that isn't particularly how it's looked to me.

Do you have concrete examples where Republicans (on the whole) treated things the Democrats were doing as sincere and well-intentioned and reasonable where in fact (according to your opinion, or later consensus as more information emerged) they were politically motivated / antidemocratic / contrary to political norms?

Comment by gjm on The U.S. is becoming less stable · 2023-08-22T15:06:40.143Z · LW · GW

Do you have good reason to think that the changes described here involve "the Stupid Party becoming marginally smarter"?

I think you should distinguish between "is a good thing" and "is not wholly, purely, a bad thing". If something both makes the Stupid Party a little smarter and destabilizes the nation's democracy, it might on balance be either good or bad.

Comment by gjm on Simulate the CEO · 2023-08-13T00:52:56.892Z · LW · GW

If you consider the "extended CEO" to include everyone whose knowledge is of importance ... surely you're no longer talking about anything much like simulating a person in any useful sense? How does "simulate the CEO" describe the situation better than "try to do what's best for the organization" or "follow the official policies and vision-statements of the organization", for instance?

I think it's telling that your examples say "when I was in organization X we would try to make decisions by referring to a foundational set of principles" and not "when I was in organization X we would try to make decisions by asking what the organization's most senior person would do". (Of course many Christians like to ask "what would Jesus do?" but I think that is importantly different from asking what the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Moderator of the General Assembly, etc., would do.)

I think most Googlers, and most Christians, are like you: they are much more likely to try to resolve a question by asking "what do the 'ten things' say?" or "how does this fit with the principles in the Sermon on the Mount[1]?" than by asking "what would Sundar Pichai say?" or "what would Pope Francis say?". And I think those are quite different sorts of question, and when they give the same answer it's much more "because the boss is following the principles" than "because the principles are an encoding of how the boss's brain works".

[1] I am guessing that you mean that rather than just the Beatitudes, which don't offer that much in the way of practical guidance, and where they do there's generally more detail in the rest of the SotM -- e.g., maybe "blessed are the meek" tells you something about what to do, but not as much as the I-think-related "turn the other cheek" and "carry the load an extra mile" and so forth do.

(Disclaimer: I have never worked at Google; I was a pretty serious Christian for many years but have not been any sort of Christian for more than a decade.)

Comment by gjm on Simulate the CEO · 2023-08-12T22:47:51.003Z · LW · GW

I don't think I buy this as a productive way of thinking about what happens in large organizations.

So first of all there's a point made in the OP: the CEO is not, in fact, an expert on all the individual things the organization does. If I'm managing a team at Google whose job is to design a new datacentre and get it running, and I need to decide (say) how many servers of a particular kind to put in it, my mental simulation of Sundar Pichai says "why the hell are you asking me that? I don't know anything about designing datacentres".

OP deals with this by suggesting that we think about an "extended CEO" consisting of the CEO together with the people they trust to make more detailed decisions. Well, that probably consists of something like the CEO's executive team, but none of them knows much about designing datacentres either.

For "simulate the (extended) CEO" to be an algorithm that gives useful answers, you need to think in terms of an "extended CEO" that extends all the way down to at most one of two levels of management above where a given decision is being made. Which means that the algorithm isn't "simulate the CEO" any more, it's "simulate someone one or two levels of management up from you". Which is really just an eccentric way of saying "try to do what your managers want you to do, or would want if you asked them".

And that is decent enough advice, but it's also kinda obvious, and it doesn't have the property that e.g. we might hope to get better results by training an AI model on the CEO's emails and asking that to make the decisions. (I don't think that would have much prospect of success anyway, until such time as the AIs are smart enough that we can just straightforwardly make them the CEO.)

I don't think organizational principles like "don't be evil" or "blessed are the meek" are most helpfully thought of as CEO-simulation assistance, either. "Don't be evil" predates Sundar Pichai's time as CEO. "Blessed are the meek" predates Pope Francis's time as pope. It's nearer to the mark to say that the CEOs are simulating the people who came up with those principles when they make their strategic decisions, or at least that they ought to. (Though I think Google dropped "don't be evil" some time ago, and for any major religious institution there are plenty of reformers who would claim that it's departed from its founding principles.)

I am pretty sure that most middle managers pretty much never ask themselves "what would the CEO do?". Hopefully they ask "what would be best for the company?" and hopefully the CEO is asking that too, and to whatever extent they're all good at figuring that out things will align. But not because anyone's simulating anyone else.

(Probably people at or near the C-suite level do quite a bit of CEO-simulating, but not because it's the best way to have the company run smoothly but because it's good for their careers to be approved of by the CEO.)

Comment by gjm on Apollo Neuro Results · 2023-07-31T20:56:37.391Z · LW · GW

I think your "charitable misinterpretation" is pretty much what trevor is saying: he's concerned that LW users might become targets for some sort of attack by well-resourced entities (something something military-industrial complex something something GPUs something something AI), and that if multiple LW users are using the same presumably-insecure device that might somehow be induced to damage their health then that's a serious risk.

See e.g. ("trying to slow the rate of progress risks making you an enemy of the entire AI industry", "trying to impeding the government and military's top R&D priorities is basically hitting the problem with a sledgehammer. And it can hit back, many orders of magnitude harder").

I'm not sure exactly what FDA approval would entail, but my guess is that it doesn't involve the sort of security auditing that would be necessary to allay such concerns.

Comment by gjm on Lack of Social Grace Is an Epistemic Virtue · 2023-07-31T20:40:51.755Z · LW · GW

I think "I think she's a little out of your league"[1] doesn't convey the same information as "you're ugly" would, because (1) it's relative and the possibly-ugly person might interpret it as "she's gorgeous" and (2) it's (in typical use, I think) broader than just physical appearance so it might be commenting on the two people's wittiness or something, not just on their appearance.

[1] Parent actually says "you're a little out of her league" but I assume that's just a slip.

It's not obvious to me how important this is to the difference in graciousness, but it feels to me as if saying that would be ruder if it did actually allow the person it was said to to infer "you're ugly" rather than merely "in some unspecified way(s) that may well have something to do with attractiveness, I rate her more highly than you". So in this case, at least, I think actual-obfuscation as well as pretend-obfuscation is involved.

Comment by gjm on Physics is Ultimately Subjective · 2023-07-19T01:34:11.172Z · LW · GW

Your distinction between "existence" and "being" seems ... idiosyncratic, and it seems to me that you should probably split your "definition 1" into definitions 1a (not dependent on a mind/observer for existence) and 1b (not dependent on a mind/observer for being). In so far as I understand the distinction you are making (which may not be far enough) it seems to me that nothing is objective-1a by definition (because you take "existence" to be a property of people's ideas) but some things might be objective-1b. I don't think anyone means objective-2 when they say "objective", and I think your insistence that they do is just a mistake.

I think the way the mistake arises is that, given other assumptions you make, what other people mean by "objective" is crazy, and so it feels to you as if saying they mean objective-2 is being charitable, replacing a crazy notion with one that's wrong but at least makes sense. Whereas, to those who make different assumptions, what you're doing looks highly uncharitable, replacing a perfectly reasonable notion with one that's wrong. (This is a very common phenomenon.)

Specifically, of course the assumption you make and they don't is something along the lines of "all talk of 'reality' and 'the external world' as something separate from our experience is nonsense". I'm sure it's true that nothing is objective given solipsism, but I find it difficult to care because I find solipsism unconvincing, your version (sorry!) as much so as any other.

(I expect you don't like having your position called solipsism. I'm going to call it that anyway. Sorry.)

Also, even given solipsism, I think your definition of "objective" makes it a useless word: by definition, nothing is "objective". I -- like you -- generally prefer to avoid the word, precisely because different people mean different things by it and it causes confusion; but I do think there's a useful concept somewhere in its vicinity; there really is a useful distinction between physics and (hypothetical) highly-intersubjectively-consistent art, and that distinction has something to do with what people commonly mean by "objective". An analogy (borrowing on a nice little essay by David Chalmers from when "The Matrix" first came out): suppose it turns out that we are all brains in vats, living in a painstakingly constructed simulated world; then it is still true, in a useful sense, that black swans are real and unicorns aren't, even though in another sense "nothing inside the simulation is real". If we-in-the-Matrix explore our world very thoroughly, we will find black swans but we will never find unicorns. Similarly: it's not just that physics is agreed on by (in some sense) everyone; it's also that it seems clear that it would be agreed on by aliens, AIs, archangels, etc., whereas we should expect those beings to have quite different taste in art from ours, and this points to an important difference between physics and art, and the word "objective" isn't such a bad word for it, even if in some sense "nothing is objective".

(Relatedly: even though we only know about "reality" via our experiences, I claim that there is a useful distinction between the things I am seeing right now and the things I might see if I were on a large dose of hallucinogens, and words like "real" and "objective" are useful ways to point at that distinction. This isn't really any different from e.g. saying "the monster is behind the building" when talking about a computer game, even though "really" the monster and building are both being displayed on the same flat surface.)

Comment by gjm on I think Michael Bailey's dismissal of my autogynephilia questions for Scott Alexander and Aella makes very little sense · 2023-07-17T15:34:25.194Z · LW · GW

It seems weird to me that these discussions are being framed on all sides in terms like "are cisgender women often autogynephilic?", when part of the issue is that different people have different ideas of what "autogynephilic" ought to mean.

There would be more chance of useful outcomes if the disputing parties could agree on some more concrete questions that are about how the world is rather than about what a particular neologism means.

Suppose A says "many trans women, and few cis women, are autogynephilic; this suggests that many trans women are that way because they are autogynephilic"; and B replies "on the contrary, many cis women are autogynephilic too; this suggests that autogynephilia is one of the ways in which trans women and cis women are alike". Their real disagreement (assuming both are smart and intellectually honest) isn't mostly about where the boundaries of "autogynephilic" should be drawn, it's about whether there is some thing that (1) is markedly more common in trans women than in cis men or cis women, where (2) the most plausible explanation for 1 is that whatever-it-is causes trans-ness, and (3) the thing is in the same general ballpark as the things that get called autogynephilia.

If there is some such thing, then the Blanchard/Bailey theory is onto something, even if on reflection it turns out that "autogynephilia" would be better used to mean something different. If there isn't, then Blanchard/Bailey is basically wrong, even if it's true that many trans women are "autogynephilic" in Blanchard's and Bailey's sense.

As I understand it, Blanchard and Bailey have devised a thing, and an instrument to measure the thing, that has the property that more or less by definition it will be found much more among trans women than among cis women (though it could, in principle, apply to cis men too, and his instrument would pick that up). And then he measures trans women and cis women and cis men, and says: look, this thing turns up in trans women and not in the other groups, so I bet it causes trans-ness.

To which tailcalled replies: no, look, your instrument is focusing on experiences that would be more sexual in nature for trans women than for cis women, even if there were nothing sexual about trans-ness and the thing you're focusing on had no causal role in making trans women the way they are; you'd get the same result if trans women were in this respect exactly like cis women except for the shape of their bodies; so how about asking these other questions instead, which don't have that problem?

And then Bailey says: but those questions explicitly insert sexual elements into the scenarios being asked about, which will tend to lead to positive answers even from people who don't have the specific feature I'm looking for, so the fact that surveys with the Aella/tailcalled questions in them give positive results for cis women doesn't mean much.

And rather than arguing about what exactly "autogynephilia" Really Means, everyone involved should be looking for questions that (unlike the Blanchard/Bailey ones, according to tailcalled) can distinguish "X is a thing that trans women, specifically, have, which distinguishes them from cis women and cis men" from "X is a thing that women, generally, have, but our questions trying to find it will fail to see it in cis women because they focus on experiences that X will cause in trans women but not in cis women"; but that (unlike tailcalled's questions, according to Bailey) don't introduce extra elements that would be arousing to cis women for reasons separate from the picturing-oneself-as-female aspect.

It seems possible that actually there are no such questions. For instance, it might be that (1) many people, regardless of sex or gender or trans-ness, find some sort of satisfaction in thinking about themselves-as-having-their-preferred-sort-of-body, but that (2) this only becomes outright arousing if it goes beyond what they experience every day from actually having their preferred sort of body, so that (3) you can't distinguish "many trans women get turned on by thinking of themselves as having female bodies, and so would many cis women if transplanted into male bodies" (which would suggest that "autogynephilia" is a consequence rather than a cause of trans-ness) from "many trans women get turned on by thinking of themselves as having female bodies, and no one else does or would" (which would suggest that "autogynephilia" might indeed be a cause).

All of this assumes that the dissenting parties are all genuinely trying, in good faith, to figure out what's going on, rather than (e.g.) {gleefully grasping at / desperately denying} anything that might make trans people look like perverts. I'm pretty confident that that's so for tailcalled. I'm not so convinced in Bailey's case.

Comment by gjm on Physics is Ultimately Subjective · 2023-07-15T15:01:21.476Z · LW · GW

I agree that my hypothetical artform is not the same as physics. That was rather my point: it seems (maybe I have misunderstood?) that you're saying either that when we say "X is objective" what we really mean is "X has extremely high intersubjective agreement", or else that what causes us to say "X is objective" is extremely high intersubjective agreement; and I think both of those are just wrong, and so I gave (what seems to me to be) a hypothetical example in which there is extremely high intersubjective agreement but I would not be at all inclined to call it objective.

You say "You've misunderstood me" but if there is a specific thing where you think I think you said X but actually you meant Y, I haven't been able to work out what that thing is, what X is, and what Y is.

... Oh, maybe you think I'm accusing you of saying that physics being about trying to model the world matters literally only because that leads to high intersubjective agreement; of course I don't think you think that and I apologize if I gave that impression. What I think (perhaps wrongly?) is that the only way that feature of physics matters for determining how "objective" physics is is by making there be strong intersubjective agreement.

It would help me (and maybe others? I don't know) if you could clarify a few specific things.

  1. There's (at least potentially) a distinction between what something means and what actually makes people say it. I think you are saying that what makes people call things objective is the presence of good intersubjective agreement, and that actually e.g. physics is not more "objective" than art but merely seems so because it has good intersubjective agreement. Is that right?
  2. If so: what exactly do you mean by "objective"? Like some other commenters here (tailcalled, TekhneMakre) I am concerned that you're defining "objective" in a way that makes it (fairly uncontroversially) not apply to anything, and it seems to me that there are plausible ways to understand "objective" that make it apply more to things commonly thought of as objective and less to things commonly thought of as subjective, in which case I think that might be a better way to use the word. But I'm not sure, because I don't know quite what you mean by "objective". (It seems like you mean something with the property that "theories of physics are in our heads" implies "physics is not objective", for instance. But that doesn't really nail it down.)
  3. When I say "physics is objective" (actually I would generally not use those words, but they'll do for now) what I think I mean is something to do with physics being grounded in the external world, and something to do with my opinion that if aliens with very different mental architecture turned up they would none the less have quite similar physics, at least to the extent that it would make similar predictions and quite likely in its actual conceptual structure, and really not very much to do with intersubjective agreement. Do you think I am just deluding myself about what's going on in my head when I say that physics is more objective than art, and that actually all I'm doing is comparing levels of intersubjective agreement? Or what?
    1. (I do think that intersubjective agreement is relevant. The way it's relevant is that what-I'm-calling-objectivity is one possible explanation for intersubjective agreement, so strong intersubjective agreement is evidence of what-I'm-calling-objectivity. But it's not the only possible explanation, and it's far from being proof of objectivity, and it certainly isn't what "objectivity" means.)
Comment by gjm on Physics is Ultimately Subjective · 2023-07-15T02:53:54.677Z · LW · GW

Imagine some variety of art for which it happens that all humans agree on the merits of any given instance. Is this picture more beautiful than that one? Everyone gives the same answer. No one knows exactly what it is about the art that they're assessing, though.

Would you consider judgements about these artworks to be just the same as ones about physics? I don't think I would. For instance, suppose we learned that we were soon to be visited by intelligent aliens. I would be much more willing to bet that the aliens would agree with me about the answer to "what will happen when I put these magnets and little iron balls in such-and-such a configuration?" than about the answer to "how beautiful is this picture?". Even if literally all human beings agree about the latter.

I don't know whether Gordon would take the same view. But for me this seems to point to a sense in which physics is "more objective" than artistic judgement, in a way that doesn't just come down to how reliable the intersubjective agreement is.

Gordon does say

That's the point of physics: to model reality. [...] the art functions are loosely constrained while the physics functions are highly constrained.

and it seems to me that this (and not the degree of intersubjective agreement) is what makes physics "objective" where art is "subjective". Whereas Gordon seems to be claiming that actually "objective" just means "very high intersubjective agreement" and the only way in which "the point of physics" and the degree of constraint matter is by affecting how much intersubjective agreement there is. And I think this is just plain wrong.

(A family of counterexamples in the other direction, less clear-cut but not requiring a counterfactual about an actually-nonexistent art form: pick any scientific topic that has become highly politicized. How effective are masks, or vaccines, or ivermectin, against COVID-19? How safe is it to give puberty-blocking drugs to gender-dysphoric preadolescents? What should we expect to happen to termperatures across the world over the next 50 years, for any given pattern of industrial activity? I claim that these questions are more like physics than art, in terms of how "objective" their answers are; more like art than physics, in terms of intersubjective agreement. Again, the point is that my notion of "objectivity", which may or may not match Gordon's but I am pretty confident is a reasonable one, plainly diverges in these cases from intersubjective agreement, and I think this is good reason to think that objectivity and intersubjective agreement are different things.)

Comment by gjm on Betting on Logic · 2023-07-13T16:36:30.392Z · LW · GW

I think maybe we're running into the problem that FDT isn't (AIUI) really very precisely defined. But I think I agree with Zane's reply to your comment: two (apparently) possible worlds where my algorithm produces different decisions are also worlds where PA proves that it does (or at least they might be; PA can't prove everything that's true)  because those are worlds where I'm running different algorithms. And unless I'm confused (which I very much might be) that's much of the point of FDT: we recognize different decisions as being consequences of running different algorithms.

Comment by gjm on Betting on Logic · 2023-07-12T14:39:35.012Z · LW · GW

I am very much not an expert on this. But: I don't see why bet 1 "subjunctively dominates" bet 2.

Suppose I'm currently planning to take bet 2, and suppose PA is able to prove that. Then I am expecting to get +1 from the bet.

Now, suppose we consider switching the output of my algorithm from "bet 2" to "bet 1". Then, counterfactually, PA will no longer prove that I take bet 2, so I now expect to be taking bet 1 in the not-P case, for an outcome of -1.

This is not better than the +1 I am currently expecting to get by taking bet 2.

What am I missing? (My best guess is that you reckon the comparison I should be doing isn't -1 after switching versus +1 before switching, but -1 after switching versus -10 from still taking bet 2 after changing the output of my algorithm, but if so then I don't understand why that would be the right comparison to make.)

Comment by gjm on Some reasons to not say "Doomer" · 2023-07-10T14:34:32.594Z · LW · GW

I don't think "AI pessimist" is a good term for what is currently sometimes expressed by "doomer", because many people are very pessimistic about AI in ways that don't have anything to do with doom. For instance, I don't think it would be reasonable to say that Timnit Gebru and Emily Bender are not AI pessimists, but they are savagely critical of the "doom" position and its adherents.

Comment by gjm on Monthly Roundup #8: July 2023 · 2023-07-04T13:47:24.485Z · LW · GW

I checked up the first few cases from that list of different things that cops find suspicious, and in 100% of them it seems that the person the cops were suspicious about were in fact transporting large quantities of illegal drugs.

What this looks like to me is less "cops will use any excuse to stop anyone they feel like" and more "some cops are actually quite good at spotting the many and varied signs that someone might be a drug dealer, and the particular things they happen to describe having noticed vary a lot", and there doesn't seem anything terribly bad about that.

There are a bunch of ways in which the situation could in fact be bad. For instance, maybe the people being stopped by the cops all just happen to be black because the cops are super-racist -- no!, I hear you cry, cops in America being racist? say it ain't so! -- or something like that. But then the problem isn't "cops have a wide variety of things they find suspicious", it's "cops disproportionately turn their drug-dealer-finding skills on a particular group of people they're biased against", and the fact that they find a large and "inconsistent" set of kinds of evidence has nothing much to do with it.

(I'm not sure whether Zvi is in fact making the same point as me. Is "this strategy" meant to be "the strategy being employed by the cops" or "the strategy being employed by the person complaining about the cops"?)

Comment by gjm on Through a panel, darkly: a case study in internet BS detection · 2023-07-02T17:04:08.402Z · LW · GW

The "people" listed on the Sol Voltaics "about" page all have links to "their" LinkedIn "pages". All of them 404.

Comment by gjm on When do "brains beat brawn" in Chess? An experiment · 2023-06-30T13:38:52.029Z · LW · GW

Several? I can see one (the one you cite). Some of the other variants -- e.g., no castling at all, or pawns can't move two squares on their first move -- can lead to positions that also arise in normal chess. But having neither side castle at all is really unusual and most such positions will be well out of distribution; and it's very common for some pawns to remain on the second rank all the way to the endgame, where the option of moving one or two squares can have important timing implications.

Comment by gjm on My tentative best guess on how EAs and Rationalists sometimes turn crazy · 2023-06-26T18:32:08.024Z · LW · GW

It seems like your assumptions about conversational norms here are very different from mine. E.g., you seem to be thinking of this as a two-person conversation -- just me and you -- where nothing outside it can be relevant. That's not how I think forum discussions work.

It doesn't seem as if any further response from me to you will be helpful at this time.

Comment by gjm on My tentative best guess on how EAs and Rationalists sometimes turn crazy · 2023-06-26T11:11:15.550Z · LW · GW

I honestly don't understand the argument in your first few paragraphs there, at all. But whether I'm being dim or you're being unclear or whatever, it doesn't really matter, because it seems we all agree that it would be more productive to get back to the actual discussion.

So how about we do that?

Both of my comments here so far contained (1) some discussion of the term "taboo" and (2) some discussion of the actual underlying thing that Matt was asking you to clarify. In both cases you have responded to 1 and ignored 2. Let's do 2. I suggest starting with the question at the end of Matt's latest comment.

Comment by gjm on My tentative best guess on how EAs and Rationalists sometimes turn crazy · 2023-06-25T13:52:18.553Z · LW · GW

There's some irony in the fact that right now we are having a discussion of the meaning of the term "taboo" when it's already become clear what Matt meant and that it doesn't involve the implications you are saying that the word "taboo" has.

As for your latest isolated demand for rigour: Matt has already pointed to the first three instances he found, all of which he considers counterexamples. I looked specifically for "can we taboo" and found a total of four examples ever, not including this thread right here.

I think the usual meaning of "Can we taboo X?" depends on context. If there's already a discussion going on in which multiple people are saying X, it means "you're all getting yourselves tied in knots by inconsistent meanings of X; you should all stop". If it's replying to a single person who's said X, it means "you are using X confusingly and I would like you to stop". Sometimes they would also like everyone else not to use X in future, but so far as I can see there is never a suggestion that the person being addressed ought to be trying to stop others using the term X.

I can't imagine how "Can we taboo X" could possibly mean "I wish you specifically to be held responsible for ensuring that no one else says X in future". That isn't how words work. Nothing Matt has said in this thread, so far as I can see, even slightly suggests that Matt thinks you ought to be stopping other people using the word "weird", or that explaining what you wrote without using that word would impose any obligation on you to do that, or anything of the kind. I am baffled by all your comments that seem to take for granted that we can all see that he's trying to lay any such obligation on you.

Having said all which: although I don't understand the objections you're making to what Matt said, there's a pretty reasonable objection to be made to it, and maybe it's actually what you're saying and I'm misunderstanding you, so I'll state it in case that's so and Matt is misunderstanding too:

MYZ's original comment was itself pointing out a possible misunderstanding between habryka and romeostevensit, centred on that very term "weird power dynamics". So, while it might be helpful for MYZ to restate his claim about successful organizations necessarily not being very weird in terms that avoid the word "weird", what he necessarily can't do is to restate his challenge to habryka and/or romeostevensit without using that word -- because his challenge is exactly about how those two people are using the word.

So, getting back to the original discussion:

romeostevensit: "Weird power dynamics" is rather unspecific about what sort of power dynamics you're talking about. Can you identify a common thread that identifies how they're unhealthy rather than focusing on how they're unusual?

habryka: It is not at all clear to me (as I think it isn't to MYZ, hence his challenge, maybe) that the power dynamics in organizations like Microsoft or the Roman Catholic Church are all that similar to the ones found in cultish religious groups or disastrously pathological rationalist ones, that romeostevensit is talking about.

MYZ: Is it really weirdness in the power dynamics that destabilizes organizations and stops them persisting and growing in influence? I agree that some kinds of pathology are incompatlble with that -- and so does habryka, looking at what he said about weirdness in those organizations having been "selected heavily to produce a stable configuration" -- but if habryka's view is that some things are weird but not destabilizing and yours is that if something isn't destabilizing then we shouldn't call it weird, why should we go with habryka's view rather than yours?

I think this whole thing would in fact go better if everyone could describe the types of power dynamics they have in mind with terms more specific than "weird", but (for the avoidance of doubt) don't think that anyone here has or should have the authority to force anyone else to do so.

Comment by gjm on My tentative best guess on how EAs and Rationalists sometimes turn crazy · 2023-06-25T00:12:10.659Z · LW · GW

In this context I don't think it does mean "prevent it being used in subsequent replies", it means "please rephrase that thing you just said but without using that specific word".

You said (I paraphrase): if an organization prospers in the longish term, then its power dynamics can't really be very weird even if they look like it. Matt doesn't see how that follows and suspects that either he isn't understanding what you mean by "weird" or else you're using it in a confused way somehow. He thinks that if either of those is true, it'll be helpful if you try to be more explicit about exactly what property of an organization you're saying is inconsistent with its prospering for generations.

None of that requires you to stop other people using the word "weird" -- it's enough if you stop using it -- though if you make the effort Matt's suggesting and it seems helpful then habryka and/or romeostevensit might choose to follow suit, since you've suggested that they might be miscommunicating because of different unstated meanings of "weird".

(I am to some extent guessing what Matt thinks and wants, but at the very least the foregoing is a possible thing he might be saying, that makes sense of his request that you taboo "weird" without any implication that you're supposed to stop other people using it.)

Comment by gjm on I still think it's very unlikely we're observing alien aircraft · 2023-06-15T22:37:30.034Z · LW · GW

I make no claim to speak for anyone who isn't me, but I agree with your analysis. I would say similar things about e.g. ESP and miracles and the like.

Comment by gjm on D&D.Sci 5E: Return of the League of Defenders Evaluation & Ruleset · 2023-06-10T22:30:43.230Z · LW · GW

I think calling anything I did "feature engineering" is pretty generous :-). (I haven't checked whether the model still likes FGP without the unprincipled feature-tweaking I did. It might.)

Comment by gjm on D&D.Sci 5E: Return of the League of Defenders Evaluation & Ruleset · 2023-06-10T17:08:34.338Z · LW · GW


Comment by gjm on D&D.Sci 5E: Return of the League of Defenders Evaluation & Ruleset · 2023-06-10T01:08:14.967Z · LW · GW

I didn't actually submit a PvP entry. I assume you used my PvE one, but it wasn't intended for PvP use and I am in no way surprised that it came last. I don't particularly object to its having been entered in the PvP tournament, but maybe there should be a note explaining that it was never meant for that?

Comment by gjm on Open Thread: June 2023 (Inline Reacts!) · 2023-06-10T01:03:00.000Z · LW · GW

A quick try suggests that it's working now. I haven't tested thoroughly.