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 Squiggle: An Overview · 2020-11-24T23:31:55.332Z · LW · GW

Very superficial remark: it seems to me like "multimodal" is a bad name for the thing you've called that. Not all mixtures are multimodal, and not all multimodal distributions arise as mixtures. Why not call it "mix" or "mixture" or something like that?

Comment by gjm on The central limit theorem in terms of convolutions · 2020-11-23T00:54:22.051Z · LW · GW

Nitpick: I think you're mixing up the variance and the second moment. The variance equals the second moment when the mean is zero, but not in general. The theorem with  in it is about second moments, not variances. The corresponding theorem for variances just says that the variance of the sum equals the sum of the variances (when the distributions are independent, if you're talking about probability distributions rather than arbitrary functions, which if you use the word "variance" you ought to be). If you use central moments (in which case the second moment is the same thing as the variance) then I guess this theorem is true, but in a rather silly way because then  and  are necessarily zero.

Comment by gjm on Demystifying the Second Law of Thermodynamics · 2020-11-22T20:59:13.922Z · LW · GW

I find myself not quite satisfied with your argument about "why entropy (almost) always goes up" -- it feels as if there's some sleight of hand going on -- but I'm not sure exactly where to locate my dissatisfaction. Let me try to express it...

First of all, although you use the word "stable" to describe the property of matter you're appealing to, I don't think that's right. I think what you're actually using is much more like "consistent" than "stable". Consider a standard thought experiment. We have a sealed container with an impermeable partition half way across. We remove all the air from one half. Then we suddenly break or remove the partition, and of course the air pressure rapidly equalizes. The macrostate transition y -> y' is from "container with air at 1atm on the left and vacuum on the right" to "container with air at 0.5atm throughout"; y->y' is a plausible thing and y'->y is not. But I don't think this asymmetry has anything to do with stability; it's not as if y->y' is a smaller change than y'->y. Rather, the thing you need is that both y and y' consistently almost always yield y'.

OK, so now we find that most macrostates have almost-perfectly-consistent successors, but less-consistent predecessors. (This is the time-asymmetry we need to get anything like the second law.) E.g., y' is preceded by y much more often than it is followed by y, even though if we consider all microstates corresponding to y' exactly the same fraction are preceded and followed by microstates corresponding to y.

Well, why is that? Isn't it unexpected? It should be (at least if we're considering what the laws of physics entail, rather than what we find in our everyday experience). So let's ask: why do things behave more consistently "forwards" than "backwards"?. I think the answer, unfortunately, is: "Because of the second law of thermodynamics" or, kinda-equivalently, "Because the universe has a low-entropy past".

Consider that partitioned container again. If we picked a present microstate truly at random from all those whose corresponding macrostate is "0.5atm air in the whole container", the probability is vanishingly small that we'd find a microstate like the real one whose recent past has all the air collected into half of the container. So however did it come about that we do now have such a microstate? As a result of the lower-entropy past. How will it come about in the future that we find ourselves in such microstates? As a result of the low-entropy present, which will then be a lower-entropy past.

So it seems as if the "stability" (by which, again, I think you mean "consistency of behaviour") of matter only explains the thermodynamic arrow of time if we're allowed to assume a lower-entropy past. And if we can make that assumption, we can get the Second Law without needing to appeal explicitly to the consistent behaviour of matter.

(On the other hand, considered as a way of understanding how the low-entropy past of the universe leads to the Second Law, I think I like it.)

Comment by gjm on How Roodman's GWP model translates to TAI timelines · 2020-11-16T17:00:10.184Z · LW · GW

I'm puzzled by a couple of features of the (first) graph.

  1. I understand what the grey contours at top right mean, but what are the grey contours at bottom left?
  2. I understand what the black line at top right is, but what's the black line that starts at bottom left and zooms off to infinity somewhere around 1950?
Comment by gjm on Examples of Measures · 2020-11-15T16:31:22.948Z · LW · GW

Nitpick: Lebesgue with a G, not Lebesque with a Q.

Comment by gjm on Please steelman the accusations of election fraud · 2020-11-10T16:53:07.024Z · LW · GW

They say

In recent decades, there have been over 1,200 known instances of voter fraud due to which 20 US elections had to be overturned to declare a new winner

with a link to a web page on the Heritage Foundation's website. I picked ten states at random and looked at the most recent two cases on each. I've boldfaced every case where it seems plausible that more than 10 votes were affected in any election:

  • Washington. Two individuals each of whom attempted to cast a small number of fraudulent votes. (Can't tell the affiliation of the first; second tried to vote for Obama despite not being registered.)
  • North Dakota. Two individuals each of whom attempted to cast a small number of fraudulent votes. (Can't tell the affiliation of either; both cases look as if they may have been inadvertent rather than deliberate fraud.)
  • Nevada. Renaldo Johnson submitted six fake names on a petition aiming to get the Green Party's nominee on the presidential ballot. It's not 100% clear to me exactly what Tina Marie Parks did (it seems to have been multiple different things, not all clearly described in that article) but it looks like the main thing was a small number of fake voter registrations.
  • Pennsylvania. It's not clear to me how much Harry Maxwell did (the story describes one fraudulent ballot; his confession seems to describe either trying to do it repeatedly or actually doing it repeatedly and I can't tell which) nor his party affiliation. Calvin Mattox and his pals ran a more substantial attempt to screw up voting in favour of Democratic candidates (there was some weird situation where the Democratic incumbents were thrown out because of some sort of misdeeds, no Democrats at all were on the ballot, and a write-in Democratic candidate eventually won).
  • Texas. Charles Jackson gave false information on a registration form. Armando O'Caña was accused of bribing voters and other irregularities in order to get elected mayor of the city of Mission. The election was overturned and then on-overturned on appeal. Party affiliation not 100% clear in either case but O'Caña was represented by the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party in his appeal, so he's probably a Democrat.
  • Florida. Bret Warren stole some absentee ballots, filled them in himself, and submitted them. Mia Antoinette Howells and others seem to have done a wide variety of bad things in a mayoral electon in Eatonville; they were found guilty on multiple charges. Curiously, that article says they were charged with 22 third-degree felonies and their actions may have affected "at least five voters", which seems rather few. (But then the whole population of Eatonville is only about 2k.) No idea of Warren's affiliation, but Howells et al were Democrats.
  • Illinois. First two entries relate to the same case: a family tried to register to vote at a vacant address. Not obvious what their affiliation is.
  • Maine. Derek Abbott lives on a border and voted twice in several elections. Delmer Terrill voted twice in one election.
  • Tennessee. First two entries relate to the same case: Brian Hodge and Betty Best tried to buy votes for a Republican candidate for sheriff of Monroe County. The number of votes affected seems to have been 13.
  • California. Norman Hall tried to buy petition signatures from homeless people ("spanning interests of several political parties", and it seems like he was being paid but so far as I know it isn't known by whom). April Atilano submitted fake registrations for a gubernatorial election. The article's a little ambiguous but it looks like she was doing it for the Democrats.

None of these is on a large scale. (Largest is probably Mattox et al in Pennsylvania.) Few if any are in general elections. Most of them are isolated cases of an individual or family trying to vote multiple times or register somewhere where they're not entitled to vote. The average size of fraud in the cases I looked at is certainly no bigger than 10; if they are representative in this respect of the 1200 cases the Heritage Foundation alleges, this amounts to maybe 12k fraudulent votes over the last ~20 years, mostly in local elections.

One fraudulent vote is one too many. But my conclusion from the Heritage Foundation's data is that on the whole this is not something we need to be worrying about more than we already are. It's rare, it's usually small, it seldom affects election results, the ones it does affect are generally pretty unimportant elections. There's certainly nothing here that makes it more credible that anyone's fiddling general election results by multiple thousands of votes. (That doesn't mean no one is. But if they are, it's probably quite a different phenomenon from the small-scale cheating the Heritage Foundation is reporting on.)

It looks as if election fraud in the Heritage Foundation's data leans Democratic. I don't know whether this is (1) small-n noise, (2) the Democrats doing more election fraud, (3) the Democrats being worse at not getting caught, (4) the Republicans chasing it harder and targeting Democrats, (5) the (right-wing) Heritage Foundation looking harder for Democratic cases, or (6) something else. In any case, it seems like a leaning rather than one party doing almost all of it, so that estimate of 12k fraudulent votes over the last 20 years will have fraud in all directions.

For the avoidance of doubt: I am not commenting on that article as a whole, just one little bit that caught my eye.

Comment by gjm on Babble Challenge: 50 thoughts on stable, cooperative institutions · 2020-11-10T00:08:18.317Z · LW · GW

(This felt less like fun and more like work than earlier ones. And I emerge from it feeling dissatisfied: although I did in fact have 50 thoughts about stable cooperative institutions, and no doubt some of them are correct and some of them might even be clever, they are almost certainly all thoughts that other people have had and expressed before. The "sillier" challenges didn't have that feature, not least because they were asking questions that probably not so many people have spent long thinking about. My guess is that in order to actually contribute anything to the understanding of stable cooperative institutions I would need to sit and think in a less babbly fashion for quite a while, and do some actual research.)

1. This seems like something that would be more useful with actual expertise, which I don't have.

2. There are experiments that seem to suggest that countries we think of as having more and better such institutions tend to be countries whose people are more willing to trust one another (in "toy" econ/psych games) -- actual causation is highly nonobvious of course.

3. Maybe useful to look at this at the level of individuals -- what can an individual person do to make such institutions more or less likely to come into being and flourish, what incentives do they face, and what might change how they respond to those incentives?

4. First guess is that the main thing is the temptation for small individual "defections": one police officer taking a small bribe, one corporate executive taking a decision that's bad for the company but good for his annual bonus, etc.

5. "Better" countries/communities/... will be ones where (a) the incentives for such misbehaviour are weaker, perhaps because of stronger formal or informal enforcement or because somehow they're better at keeping incentives aligned, and/or (b) individuals' motivations are less selfish so that given bad incentives move them less.

6. People are not idealized consequentialists and often we just do whatever first occurs to us, what we did last time, what we have seen others do, etc. So to the above we should add (c) opportunities for misbehaviour are less salient, others seem to be less inclined to misbehave, etc.

7. Note that this may mean that _hypocrisy is good_: if everyone else seems to be doing the Right Thing then you will be more inclined to follow suit, even if in fact they're all secretly on the take and you just haven't noticed.

8. But of course _hypocrisy is bad_ too: it depends on whether the question is "behave badly for sure; admit it or not?" or "hide misbehaviour for sure; actually misbehave or not?".

9. I realise I've tacitly been thinking specifically of incentives rewarding "bad" behaviours, but surely there are also rewards for "good" ones: social approval, wealth from long-term success of employer, actually valuing whatever good the institution does, etc.

10. That bit about "long-term success" may be important. Suppose I am purely selfish and have no scruples, and I'm a CxO. I can embezzle a pile of money from the company and get away with it, but that will make it less likely to succeed. If I value getting _really_ rich in the longer term over getting _slightly_ rich in the shorter term, and if the prospect of longer-term success is real, I may choose not to embezzle.

11. Of course, if my individual embezzlement makes a negligible difference to the company's prospects I may do it after all, so there could be a tragedy-of-the-commons effect; perhaps incentive-crafting for good institutions needs quite different adjustments for individuals at different levels.

12. Seems like it would be worth looking at more and less successfully stable cooperative institutions in a single country / of a single type, looking for patterns.

13. Even better would be _experiments_ where we try to establish institutions in various ways and in various places and see what works and what doesn't, but that seems like it would be pretty much 100% impossible.

14. Some of the longest-lasting institutions are religions. Why?

15. To some extent many religions can be viewed as devices for encouraging cooperation and stability. (Cooperate, because the gods like it. Cooperate, because you are all part of a single whole. Don't change, because we already have the final revelation of all truth. ...)

16. Some other long-lasting institutions are nations.

17. Part of that is cheating: we tend to think of, say, "England" as having persisted for something on the order of a thousand years or so even though its exact boundaries have changed, it's more or less merged with Scotland and Wales and (Northern) Ireland, the way it's governed has changed radically, etc.

18. Part of it is that to some extent nations are discovered as well as created. E.g., England and the UK are not the same thing as either of the geographical entities Britain or Great Britain, but there's a close relationship; England and the UK are not the same thing as "where English is spoken natively", but again there's a close relationship.

19. One thing (related to those factors) that helps nations cohere is a sense of having common interests and purpose. Religions try to encourage this too.

20. Other institutions also try to foster that sense, both by making it true (e.g,, company bonus schemes and share options) and by trying to make people _feel like_ it's true (e.g., use of "family" language).

21. If we feel that stable cooperative institutions are suffering lately, could it be that people in them either _have_ fewer common interests or _feel_ fewer common interests?

22. It's a commonplace observation (and probably true) that there was a considerable shift towards individualism in the West during roughly the 20th century.

23. Note that we don't necessarily _want_ an unconditional increase in stability of cooperative institutions. Suppose the institution is the Mafia, the Nazi Party, a price-fixing cartel, a cult designed to exploit its members for profit.

24. When thinking about incentives, or paths of least resistance, we need to bear in mind indirect effects. How do we incentivize A (earlier) to set things up so that B (later) is incentivized to do what we want?

25. In some cases A and B may be the same people at different times, and these may be particularly difficult. How do we get politicians _now_ to arrange their procedures so that _later_ those same politicians will be difficult for lobbyists to corrupt? How do we get company executives _now_ to set up their compensation schemes so that _later_ they will act in the company's interests? Their own present incentives may point in the wrong direction for this already.

26. Arguably, the norm of _trying to establish and maintain stable cooperative institutions_ is itself a stable cooperative institution. So if there's some general decline, it may feed on itself. "Gradually, then suddenly."

27. This suggests that if we're in a situation where stable cooperative institutions are generally doing well and we want that to continue, we may want something like a zero-tolerance policy towards defection. Public outrage any time any politician shows even a hint of corruption. Instant termination for employees who aren't working hard.

28. _Explicit_ attempts to maintain stable cooperative institutions can backfire if they aren't felt to match the real underlying values. So once the rot starts, the only paths to fixing it involve decisive actions (e.g., hire/fire to make sure the people you have are actually aligned with your company's interests) and not just proclamations about what "our company culture is".

29. The stablest institutions might be ones where something about the nature of the institution itself automatically produces stability.

30. That's not necessarily a good goal to aim for; optimizing for one thing tends to worsen others and the same traits that make an institution super-stable may e.g. make it super-unresponsive to change. (Consider, e.g., the Roman Catholic Church which arguably has both those characteristics.) Still, it might be worth looking for such traits. Let's stick with our example of the Catholic Church, or maybe Christianity more generally.

31. Feature: making the persistence of the institution an explicit goal of the institution.

32. (Cf. Pournelle's "Iron Law of Bureaucracy".)

32. Feature: a near-watertight belief that the institution and its goals are supremely valuable.

33. In many places, Catholicism took a _really bad_ beating because of child-abuse scandals; does that near-watertight belief in the goodness of the institution have the consequence that when it does something too bad to ignore, people are more likely to give up on the institution wholesale than to try to amend it? (It sounds plausible but I'm not at all sure it's so; perhaps other institutions in which similar bad things happened would have suffered even more attrition.)

34. Feature: explicit, written beliefs, values, procedures, etc. (Harder for them to shift gradually, that way.)

35. Feature: the institution's official values are explicitly cooperative. (For-profit businesses may face a fundamental disadvantage here.)

36. I should note that I'm only _guessing_ that all these things are features that promote stability. The real causes might be other things entirely. But they seem like plausible stability-promoters.

37. Let's consider now another institution that we might _want_ to be stable, but that's been called into doubt in some places lately: democracy. It's lasted quite a while in many places. What helps its stability? What hurts?

38. Presumably voters like democracy because it gives them (or at least seems to give them?) some control over their rulers. (So one might hope that democracies are somewhat "stable against popular revolution". This seems like a big deal.)

39. Whoever's on top in _any_ system might be expected to like the system because it gives them power. (So maybe _any_ political system is somwhat "stable against attack from the top".)

40. So explicit attacks on democracy may come from (a) groups that hope for more power than democracy looks like giving them -- e.g., people/parties/... who have tasted power but are currently out and don't expect to win the next election, or people/parties/... who are in power but fear that they're about to lose it -- or (b) breakdowns in voters' trust that democracy actually does empower them.

41. As well as being overthrown outright, democracy can fail if it stops actually making power responsive to voters' wishes. E.g., falsified vote counts, all candidates having to be approved by some institution that has the _real_ power, enough corruption that you can't tell what a candidate will actually do without knowing who'll be bribing them, etc. These are probably bigger dangers, in most democracies, than overt abandonment of democracy.

42. (More generally: Stability of a cooperative institution isn't enough; it needs to remain genuinely cooperative, and that rather than stability as such may be the most important failure mode.)

43. One reason why democracy tends to persist is that nations and their people are _proud_ of having it and often make it a key part of their identity. Of course this leaves open failure modes where the name remains but the reality fades, but it does seem that _being something people are proud of_ is an advantage. This is not exactly surprising.

44. It doesn't feel as if I'm producing any very interesting or original thoughts. What happens if we reverse the question and ask: Suppose we have some cooperative institution and we want to _make it fail_ (either when designing it, or later); what would we do?

45. We could make it so that keeping it working requires people to do things that are very difficult or against their interests.

46. We could hire some smart and unscrupulous people and say "make this thing fail; I don't care how you do it".

47. We could design it to pit people against one another, and hope that the resulting acrimony will itself be destructive. (Since this seems like it describes both capitalism and democracy, and both are doing pretty well all things considered, maybe it wouldn't work.)

48. We could aim not to make it _die_ as such but to make it _unstable_, so that small changes tend to produce larger changes, in the hope that eventually that will kill it. So e.g. if the institution involves some sort of division of power (as e.g. the legislative/executive/judicial split or the House/Senate split or the state/Federal split, in the US), try to make sure that when one entity starts to get more power there are ways for it to parlay that into more more power. (Consider e.g. gerrymandering, court-packing, etc.)

49. The above has mostly been considering institutions whose existence is somehow formalized and explicit. Even, e.g., "democracy" cashes out in any particular place to a bunch of laws. Some important institutions aren't explicit in this way; consider e.g. mutual trust in a community (or a family or ...).

50. It seems like it makes an _enormous_ difference who's meant to be participating in an institution. Smaller, more homogeneous groups with more common interests cooperate better. Perhaps we can, and if so perhaps we should, somehow build larger-scale cooperation out of smaller-scale institutions where cooperation is easier?


Comment by gjm on Why indoor lighting is hard to get right and how to fix it · 2020-11-06T17:00:36.274Z · LW · GW

If I insist on only using existing ceiling light fittings -- so I need bulbs with (as I'm in the UK) standard bayonet mounts and form factor similar to that of traditional incandescent bulbs -- are there any good options? I'm having trouble finding anything with both decent brightness and good CRI, but maybe I'm looking for the wrong thing (I've been assuming LED is best these days) or in the wrong places.

Comment by gjm on News ⊂ Advertising · 2020-11-02T02:43:11.190Z · LW · GW

You think my definition of "advertising" is too narrow. It might be, and I take your point that there are ways of pushing a story that don't involve explicitly paying money to the people you want to publish it. (Which I didn't intend to deny -- that's why I asked "who is paying whom" rather than assuming that the whom is the news outlet.) But it looks to me as if either your definition of "advertising" is too broad, or else there are limits on it that I have failed to understand.

For me, I think what distinguishes advertisement from other forms of publication is something like this: an advertisement is there because someone else hopes to gain from my paying attention to it, in contrast to other publications which are (in principle) there because someone else hopes that I will gain by paying attention to it, perhaps because if I expect to do so then I will pay them.

There are degrees of advertising-ness. Something is 100% pure advertising if it exists, and is the way it is, only because someone has purposes that are advanced when others pay attention to it. Something is 100% pure not-advertising if those who made it value others' attention only because those others get, or think they get, something valuable from it. Scarcely anything is 100% pure either way. Subliminal advertisements, to whatever extent they work, would be 100% pure advertising. Maybe if I hire you to do some sort of analysis, and you do it as accurately and honestly as you can, your writeup is 100% pure not-advertising.

Charles Dickens wrote Bleak House partly to encourage reform of a malfunctioning part of the English legal system. It is more than 0% advertising. But he also wrote it to provide readers with an engrossing story, interesting characters, good writing, and so forth, and it continues to be read after the Chancery Court was abolished. I would find it perverse to say that it "is advertising", still more to say that "novels are a subset of advertising" just because many of them have some sort of persuasive purpose.

It looks to me as if news is more advertising-y than novels, but I am not persuaded that news is advertising-y enough to justify the claim that "news is a subset of advertising".

You gave a number of concrete examples of stories in Ars Technica that you think are there at least partly because someone else hopes to profit from their being read. You may be right. If so, that establishes that those stories are more-than-0% advertising. Maybe they're close to 100%. So far, so good.

On the other hand, when Ars Technica publishes a liveblog of the latest Apple announcement event, it's doing so not only because Apple made it possible for them to do it by inviting their journalists (and, for all I know, providing other incentives of one sort or another) but also because it turns out that quite a lot of people want to know what shiny things the world's most successful shiny-thing company has just announced. Those things are a long way from being 0% advertising, but they're also a long way from being 100%: a major reason why they're there and are the way they are is because lots of people actually want to read them. I, personally, would not say that they "are advertising".

Similarly, when they publish reviews of particular products, no doubt they have been provided with free samples to review, and no doubt the vendors are hoping for favourable reviews, and it's not hard to imagine a variety of incentives for the reviews to be positive. So, again, not 0% advertising. On the other hand, by and large the products they're reviewing look like ones a lot of readers are genuinely interested in reading about, and so far as I can tell they don't outright lie about the products in their reviews, and sometimes they publish negative reviews that it's hard to imagine the vendors being happy to see. All of which, to me, indicates that a substantial part of why they're publishing those reviews is because a lot of people want to read them. So: a long way from being 100% advertising, too.

I do agree that the tech press is pretty damn advertising-y, but even there it seems to me that there's plenty that I would not find it reasonable to call "a subset of advertising". However, I'm more interested in news, hence my examples from the BBC and the Guardian. I do not find it plausible that most of the stories I listed have a substantial advertising component. Let's take the first example I mentioned: the top story on the BBC's website when I wrote my comment above was about the then-recent Biden/Trump debate. That's a thing a lot of people genuinely want to know about. (Whether they should want to know about it is maybe a worthwhile question, but "pandering to unwise desires" is not the same thing as advertising.) So far as I can tell, the article was a reasonably accurate description of some of the more notable things said in that debate. If you think it's "advertising" then I want to know who it is that (1) gains from my reading it and (2) has, in pursuit of that gain, influenced the BBC to put the article there.

Likewise for most of the other stories I listed. They mostly don't seem like stories whose reading brings much benefit to anyone other than the reader. They mostly don't seem like there's anyone who would be expending trouble or resources to get news outlets to publish them. And they mostly seem like the sort of thing that readers go to the BBC or Guardian website in order to find.

I don't claim that any of them is literally 0% advertising, but with a couple of exceptions they all look less advertising-y than Bleak House. And unless I'm wrong about most of them, that for me is enough reason to reject the claim that "news is a subset of advertising".

Hence my request: if the story about the Trump/Biden debate, or the story about a clothing retailer being in financial trouble and maybe closing all their UK shops, or the story about the COVID-19 death rate in England having increased for the first time in a while, is "advertising", tell me who the advertisers are. Tell me who benefits from my having read the stories. Tell me what you think they did to get the stories published.

I think those stories are there mostly because they're things BBC/Guardian readers would want to know about. To whatever extent I'm right about that, they are not advertising.

Again, to be explicit, I am not saying that every story, or nearly every story, on the BBC or Guardian website is not-advertising. I bet the footballer one is advertising. I wouldn't be surprised if the children's-authors one has a lot of advertising about it. (Though I think that one's like the Ars Technica Apple liveblogs: it's a story seeded by someone with an interest, but it's also the sort of thing their readers would want to know about.) I entirely agree that "news" and "advertising" have substantial overlap. But I think your headline claim goes substantially too far.

Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 consequences of intelligent ant colonies · 2020-10-31T00:03:03.911Z · LW · GW

To be clear, I wasn't commenting at all on the disqualification of Elizabeth's and Slider's earlier answers. (Except to whatever extent your regretful comments about last week's results related to those answers, which it seems clear they can't have for Elizabeth's since that was in an earlier week and it never occurred to me they did for Slider's.)

I hadn't at all understood that your comment about the tennis player was a reference to your own answer. Rereading what you wrote, it's hard to see how I could have missed that ... aha, it turns out you edited it. (It used to say "Last week we tried a more direct babble, on solving a problem in our lives. It felt a bit too me like the tennis player trying to swing their racket the same way as when they were doing a bicep curl. It felt like it went too directly at the problem, while misunderstanding the mechanism." and now it says "Last week we tried a more direct babble, on solving a problem in our lives. When I did it, I felt a bit like the tennis player trying to swing their racket the same way as when they were doing a bicep curl. I felt like I went too directly at the problem, while misunderstanding the mechanism." (Boldface added in the three places that changed.))

I would suggest not expecting an exercise like this to be practically useful for solving problems. If you're going to be in a boxing match and you are doing bicep curls to get stronger[1], the fact that the exercise is not knocking anyone out should not factor at all into how you feel about your progress, and trying to tweak the exercise so that it actually knocks people out would probably not be an improvement.

[1] I have no idea whatsoever whether bicep curls would in fact help you get stronger in a way that would be useful in a boxing match.

Comment by gjm on Why does History assume equal national intelligence? · 2020-10-30T23:55:30.065Z · LW · GW

Where does national intelligence come into this? It certainly matters how clever various individuals are, and as D0TheMath's answer (which maybe should really be a comment?) says it's not at all unusual for accounts of battles etc. to point to how one general (etc.) outsmarted another.

But when did a particular historical event ever hinge on one nation's people being (say) on average 5 IQ points smarter than another?

Maybe if one nation is smarter overall than another it'll tend to have smarter people running its military. But I'd expect any such effect to be totally swamped by e.g. whether the cleverest people in the nation tend to go into the military rather than academic research, trade, the priesthood, etc. And by whether the nation's military is run in a way that gives opportunity for very clever people to flourish rather than getting into trouble for insubordination. And by a whole lot of other factors.

I don't see any reason to think that history assumes equal "national intelligence". I think history generally ignores "national intelligence" for the irrelevance it is.

(As far as particular events go, anyway -- and that's what you asked about. Of course it might happen that one nation gradually builds up a big economic advantage over another, and maybe that might be down to its people being more inventive or harder working or clearer-thinking or something. "National intelligence" might plausibly matter there. Though again I suspect that whatever such differences there might be often matter less than other factors. What does the nation encourage its cleverest people to do, and how does that line up with what brings it most prosperity? What things do its laws and customs make easy or difficult, and how do those line up with what bring most prosperity? What natural resources are there? Etc., etc.)

Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 consequences of intelligent ant colonies · 2020-10-30T02:55:03.924Z · LW · GW

(This text is just there so that actual content isn't in the preview.)

  1. New research programmes. This discovery would give rise to a lot of them. I don't think listing different ones is unreasonable here, so here are some: [7]
    1. Careful examination of the colonies themselves. What algorithms are they executing? What are the communication mechanisms? Is there discernible structure? How does it work?
    2. Attempts to use similar mechanisms in silico. Just as biological neurons inspired neural networks, there would be many attempts to model computer systems on (simplifications of) ant colonies.
    3. Investigation into what changed. Did it affect widely separated colonies at the same time? (This would suggest divine intervention, Sheldrake-style morphic resonance, etc.) Did it spread from colony to colony, and if so how? Whatever the cause, is it something we can somehow apply to other systems, or apply multiple times to one colony for extra intelligence? Does it suggest that some single change can make other complex but unintelligent systems become intelligent?
    4. Biological examination of the individual ants. What's the nature of the communication etc. that they do? Are there interesting differences between the ants in smarter versus dimmer colonies?
    5. Maybe there'd be a shakeup in philosophy of mind. E.g., anyone who thinks that for some reason real thinking can only happen in human brains, or in things that somehow share structure or materials with human brains, now has an actual concrete counterexample. All those thought experiments about replacing neurons one by one have counterparts involving replacing ants one by one, and maybe that can even actually be done.
    6. Do intelligent ant colonies communicate with one another? If so, how? Do we need to rewrite everything in linguistics?
    7. Ant-thropology. Are there ant-colony societies? (Maybe not at first, if they only just gained sentience. So maybe we get to observe societies forming from scratch, which could be super-exciting.)
  2. Changes in individual humans' thinking, arising from knowing about intelligent ant colonies. [2]
    1. At the moment, most people -- even e.g. vegetarians -- don't much mind harming or killing insects. If an insect might be a vital part of an intelligent system, maybe that changes.
    2. If there is a whole nother intelligent species out there, maybe that makes other humans seem more like us than before. Perhaps racism, sexism, etc. would reduce.
  3. Political and quasi-political consequences. [8]
    1. It's not clear to me whether nations should consider their intelligent ant colonies people and/or citizens, but I bet some people would be very insistent that they should and other people would be very insistent that they shouldn't. (Perhaps sincerely, perhaps because of perceived political gain or loss.) The rights and welfare of intelligent ant colonies would inevitably become a politically sensitive topic. In countries with strong political polarization, presumably particular views on ant colonies would become part of the major political coalitions' idea-clusters, which in turn might result in some realignment as people with strong opinions on ants move from one coalition to another.
    2. If ant colonies gained any sort of rights or protections, a lot of people would resent that. ("... coming here, taking our lawns, ...") This might spawn a new sort of angry populism, blaming all the world's troubles on the ants.
    3. Conversely, the ant colonies would provide an exciting new metaphor for extremists to use about humans they didn't like (people with the wrong colour of skin, the wrong religion, the wrong parentage, etc.).
    4. Legal changes to give ant colonies rights and responsibilities would be a big deal in themselves and might have interesting side effects (e.g., if it were done by broadening the definition of "person", then maybe some other things besides humans and ant colonies would suddenly qualify).
    5. If in any places ant colonies gained the right to vote, or other access to political power or leverage, there could be major shifts in the balance of power (even among humans).
    6. Perhaps in some places humans would try to wipe out ant colonies, seeing them as rival claimants to the land or something. It's not clear to me how straightforward this would be. If straightforward, the main (local) consequence would be that some would see these people as heroes while others would see them as mass-murderers; perhaps the debate might resemble ones about abortion. If not straightforward, though, the consequences might be more interesting. War between humans and ant colonies? (One can imagine the ant colonies having some interesting ways of striking back.) Drastic anti-ant measures with knock-on consequences for other humans, other animals, the environment, perhaps.
    7. If the ant colonies turned out to be better at defending themselves than one would immediately expect, at some point we might end up with humans living under ant-colony rulers. I for one would welcome our new insect overlords. (This seems a really unlikely outcome, because we have technology and presumably they don't. But perhaps that might change as rapidly as their intelligence did, somehow.)
    8. Ants live more readily in some parts of the world than others. Places with more ant colonies might be at a substantial economic advantage (suddenly more workers, more innovation, ...) or disadvantage (suddenly building becomes harder, more social friction between very different "people", ...), changing the global balance of power.
  4. Consequences of communication with ant colonies. [8]
    1. These things presumably think in a way entirely different from ours. They will be a wonderful source of fresh ideas and perspectives. There will be new inventions, new scientific theories, and the like (but with some lag time; we will need to explain to the any colonies what problems we are interested in).
    2. Facilitating such communication will therefore be valuable, and there will be people and organizations doing it for money. A whole new profession! (Probably one of many.)
    3. I bet there would be at least one new religion, maybe derived from whatever ideas the ant colonies have that seem most mysterious to us, maybe regarding the colonies themselves as a sign from the gods or something.
    4. There would also be political and social movements inspired by the ants.
    5. If ant colonies are intelligent, perhaps they have (all of a sudden!) art forms. Their art might be beautiful to us, somehow, but even if not it might become very valuable (as a way of signalling one's up-to-date-ness and open-mindedness, or just because of scarcity), leading no doubt to much controversy and excitement among those who follow such things.
    6. Some people would fall in love with ant colonies, want to marry them, etc.
    7. Some people would want to be ant colonies, ask to be given the same legal status as an ant colony, etc. I suspect they would get about as much respect as furries do at present, but their existence would have some cultural impact.
    8. If an ant colony is, overall, about as intelligent as an average human, I bet that means that it's much smarter in some ways and much dimmer in others. This means that collaboration between humans and ants might be super-effective, with each filling in some of the other's blind spots. Expect human-ant joint ventures to do wonderful things.
  5. Bullshit. [3]
    1. There would be a flood of books and the like by people claiming to have found brilliant new insights from the ants' novel thinking patterns, but who had in fact neither had any original ideas nor derived anything genuinely new from the ant colonies.
    2. There would be a flood of books and the like claiming to convey specific messages from the ants, whose authors had in fact never received any such messages or had badly misunderstood them.
    3. There would be a flood of books and the like by people claiming to have found brilliant new insights from the existence of intelligent ant colonies, but who in fact (etc., etc.).
  6. Extrapolation. [2]
    1. If an ant colony of a million ants is about as clever as an average human being, what about a colony of ten million ants? What happens if you bring two intelligent colonies together and encourage their ants to mingle a bit? Can you use the fact that smaller colonies aren't intelligent to conduct some sort of breeding-for-smarts programme without being viewed as a moral monster? Maybe we can bootstrap a superintelligence. (The possible consequences of that, good and bad, are endless, but I don't think listing them is on topic here.)
    2. Ants don't appear to move or think very fast. Maybe we can simulate an intelligent ant colony (without much need to understand what it's doing above the level of individual ants) well enough to get something of roughly human-level intelligence -- but running hundreds of times faster, or more. This is a pretty weak kind of superintelligence, but still potentially able to change the world.
  7. Things ant colonies could do better or differently. [4]
    1. Perhaps an intelligent ant colony can observe the world in ways that are difficult for a human being, by sending ants to investigate particular things. If so, they would probably open up new means of espionage, structural inspection of buildings, and so forth. I'm not sure how world-shaking this would be; probably not very.
    2. Some varieties of petty crime would be easier for ant colonies. A million coordinated ants could probably kill a person (lots of stings, crawl into orifices and block breathing, etc.) and might then be able to retreat leaving less obvious sign of who did it than a human could. (I assume they've got some way of getting around in human spaces. Some sort of colony-on-wheels, perhaps; see below for a bit more on this.)
    3. Ant colonies might be able (and willing, if given suitable incentives) to perform some kinds of highly intricate craftwork that humans can't practically do. (Consider e.g. leaf-cutter ants. They can probably work on paper as well as on leaves.) This isn't necessarily any better than what humans can make machines do, but for art/craft purposes "made by intelligent ant colonies" may be more appealing than "made by a 3D printer". So expect some new artforms even if the ant colonies themselves don't have art that interests us.
    4. Ant-colony communication might well be very difficult for humans to intercept, providing new means of covert communication for criminals, intelligence agencies, etc.
  8. New things ant colonies might do having gained intelligence. [3]
    1. They would want to be able to move around more effectively, interact with humans more naturally, etc. Someone, somehow, would figure out ways to do this (even if only because some humans would benefit from easier access to the ant colonies). Maybe antmobiles and the like would become a big area of business. (Or several. Antmobiles and ant-internet, for instance, might both be a big deal, but I doubt they'd have much in common.)
    2. Some would want to learn from us. At least some schools, universities, etc., would probably be willing. I've no idea how that would work, but maybe some university lectures would start having simultaneous translation into Antish.
    3. Many would want to move from the locations where they formed to some place with other ant colonies they could interact with. Perhaps there would be ant-colony suburbs or ant-colony villages.
  9. Other. [13]
    1. Many religions would have some radical rethinking to do. Expect reforms, schisms, new branches of theology, etc.
    2. Also, expect (probably hopeless) attempts at proselytization among the ant colonies.
    3. Religions that already took insects seriously might suddenly get a lot of new converts. (Jainism is the obvious example.)
    4. Quite aside from systematic attempts to wipe out ant colonies, there are plenty of humans already trying to kill ants. If some of those ants suddenly become parts of intelligent colonies, a lot of the humans presumably won't have any idea that's happened. But the colonies will probably figure out what's what. Expect a lot of cases where humans are badly harmed or killed (in self-defence) by ant colonies, until we manage to get all the humans and all the ant colonies informed about the situation. Which will probably take a while.
    5. Maybe also expect a wave of suicides, religious conversions, nervous breakdowns, etc., from people who have wiped out a lot of ants before discovering that ant colonies can be intelligent, and are now overwhelmed with guilt.
    6. If ant colonies gained any sort of legal protection, then building on land occupied by intelligent ant colonies or maybe even building on land that might be occupied by intelligent ant colonies would likely become illegal. (Unless you relocated the ants. But they might not be any more willing to move than humans usually are.) Depending on exactly what collections of ants are intelligent, and how confident we are about that, this could make new building hugely more difficult. Hence: more expensive housing and commercial rents, less expansion of cities into suburbs, etc.
    7. If ant colonies are intelligent, how can we be sure that collections of termites, bees, locusts, etc., aren't too? It might suddenly become much more difficult to deal with these pests, for fear that we might be committing murder.
    8. I assume there are ecosystems in which ants form an important part. Including, e.g., as food for other animals. If enough of the ants are suddenly parts of intelligent colonies, which presumably can find ways of avoiding too many of their number becoming dinner, those ecosystems could be radically changed, which could ultimately lead to dramatic consequences such as extinctions.
    9. In some cases we may intervene to stop intelligent ant colonies being badly damaged by predators. Expect increased sales of products that kill ant predators.
    10. Whatever individual (or research group) discovered that ant colonies are intelligent would instantly be famous, presumably get a Nobel prize, etc. (Does this count as the world changing? It would certainly change their world.)
    11. Widespread concern about having one's house or office infiltrated by ants belonging to colonies working for one's enemies/rivals/government/insurers/... would lead to major changes in how buildings are designed, with attention to keeping out unwanted ants more rigorously.
    12. If intelligent ant colonies can use the internet, own things, etc., then they will need to be able to identify themselves. Maybe this will just be a matter of passwords or something, but I think more likely new recognition and authentication technologies will be developed as a result.
    13. Extinction of everything valuable in human civilization (as the result of massive nuclear war, global pandemic, etc.) just got somewhat less likely. Most things that wipe us out don't wipe out the ants too, and presumably after a while the ants will have records of a lot of what we have done.
Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 consequences of intelligent ant colonies · 2020-10-29T15:33:34.376Z · LW · GW

I would be interested in some elaboration on how you feel last week's responses were unsatisfactory.

I can't speak for anyone else who answered, but I was treating it as a game in the same way as in previous weeks, and I don't see any obvious reason why I shouldn't have. If you want to actually solve a real problem then you don't just babble, you babble&prune, and the place for that is not for something that advertises itself as a "Babble Challenge". (And if you want to actually solve a real problem in your own life then you usually do it in private, or with carefully selected friends / advisers / therapists / whatever, not out loud and in public.)

So when you say "It felt a bit too me like the tennis player trying to swing their racket the same way as when they were doing a bicep curl." what I read is "I invited people to do some bicep curls while holding the racket, and they didn't read my mind and figure out that I was actually hoping they'd play some real tennis shots.".

Comment by gjm on Does playing hard to get work? AB testing for romance · 2020-10-27T01:29:40.659Z · LW · GW

especially when what you really want is a staple

An amplemaplestaple?

Comment by gjm on The date of AI Takeover is not the day the AI takes over · 2020-10-26T14:13:27.475Z · LW · GW

I don't agree with your answer to your rhetorical question. A kitchen knife can cause injury and death pretty easily, but while it can be a weapon I wouldn't say that kitchen knives are "inherently a weapons technology". A brick can cause injury and death pretty easily too, and bricks are certainly not "inherently a weapons technology".

I would only say that something is "inherently a weapons technology" if (1) a major motivation for its development is (broadly speaking) military and/or (2) what it's best at is causing injury, destruction and death.

Military organizations have put quite a lot of effort into AI, but so have plenty of non-military organizations and it looks to me as if the latter have had much more (visible) success than the former. And so far, the things AI has proven most useful for are things like distinguishing cats from dogs, translating text, and beating humans at board games. Those (or things like them) may well have military applications, but they aren't weapons. (Not even when applied militarily. A better way of spotting enemy tanks makes your weapons more effective, but it isn't itself a weapon.)

Both you and Dagon can point your fingers wherever you like. The more interesting question is where it's useful to point your fingers.

Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 ways of solving a problem in your life · 2020-10-26T01:34:37.367Z · LW · GW


Comment by gjm on Should we use qualifiers in speech? · 2020-10-23T21:12:52.452Z · LW · GW

Me too. I just saw the opportunity for a bit of hopefully-amusing snarkiness :-).

Comment by gjm on Should we use qualifiers in speech? · 2020-10-23T21:12:19.979Z · LW · GW

Oh, that's possible. deluks917, my apologies if I missed your joke and then tried to make the same one more clumsily.

Comment by gjm on Effective Epidemiology · 2020-10-23T15:15:47.430Z · LW · GW

My prejudices run the same way as yours. The most encouraging thing in the linked charts is that the fraction of staff infected doesn't seem outrageously large. (But I would be happier if I could compare with corresponding infection rates for the general population.)

Comment by gjm on Effective Epidemiology · 2020-10-23T15:13:09.812Z · LW · GW

Schools make a lot of use of things made out of paper. Paper suffers in even quite light rain, especially after say 30-60 minutes.

Comment by gjm on News ⊂ Advertising · 2020-10-23T11:05:00.874Z · LW · GW

Here are some of the stories on the BBC News home page (for me, right now):

  • The Biden/Trump debate last night; the headline says they argued about "Covid, climate and racism".
  • Lockdown coming in Wales in the hope of getting the Plague sufficiently under control that "Christmas trade" survives.
  • Similar article about England and Wales. (England is also tightening things up, though not to the point of full lockdown.)
  • Human-interest story about a 3-year-old whose parents were killed in fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • More than 200 children's authors have signed an open letter asking the government to provide children who get free school meals in termtime with support during the holidays. (The main opposition party tried to get this to happen but it was voted down.)
  • Human-interest story about the first black TV presenter in the UK (an award has just been named after her).
  • A large clothing retailer is considering closing all its shops in the UK and some other European countries because they are in financial trouble.

If you think these are "advertising", could you indicate who you think is paying whom for them to be at the top of the BBC News home page, and why they think it worth paying for?

Of course the BBC, as a state-funded organization that doesn't have ads, is a bit of a special case. Here are some of the stories on the front page of the Guardian newspaper's home page.

  • Link to a live-updating thing on the Plague. (Headlines right now: England's death rate has increased for the first time in months, and a major city has moved into "tier 3" of restrictions.)
  • A footballer is campaigning against "child food poverty" (he's been posting a lot about it on Twitter). [This one seems not very news-like, though it relates to the same, arguably important, government matter as the one with the authors from the BBC.]
  • Trump/Biden debate.
  • Some new (not super-exciting) documents relating Prince Andrew to Ghislaine Maxwell (associate of Jeffrey Epstein).
  • Some asylum-seekers in the UK are being held in very bad conditions.
  • Edward Snowden has been granted permanent residency in Russia.

Same question again. (The Guardian is not state-funded and does run ads, or at least I think it does (my web browsers block ads aggressively, so I don't see 'em. For the avoidance of doubt, I understand that you're suggesting that news stories are themselves ads; I mention running explicit ads or not merely as an indication of what sort of organization I'm talking about.)

I wouldn't be surprised if the thing about the footballer were paid for somehow by the footballer or their publicists. (Though I also wouldn't be surprised if it's just that the Guardian's journalists spend a lot of time on Twitter and like to write about what they see there.)

My guess is that, with the possible exception of the footballer story, none of these things is an "ad" except in the super-generalized sense where everything anyone publishes is an "ad". Of course I could be wrong. If you think so, I am willing to be persuaded, but I would like to see some evidence. So far, it seems to me that all you've offered is assertions.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not in the least denying that there's a lot of "submarine PR" around, and that lots of news stories are built around press releases that are put out by companies and other organizations precisely with the expectation that journalists will turn them into "news". I think your claim is overstated, not 100% wrong.

Comment by gjm on Should we use qualifiers in speech? · 2020-10-23T09:15:40.593Z · LW · GW

Then why did you begin your comment with "I think"?

Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 ways of solving a problem in your life · 2020-10-23T00:44:54.874Z · LW · GW

(The problem I have selected is not necessarily the most important one in my life; I confess I tried to pick one that would let me produce lots of answers, be reasonably relatable for others, and not leak more personal information than I am comfortable with.)

Problem: I don't have so much money that I feel able to retire with confidence that I won't run out. (I am still rather younger than the age at which most people retire, but I would like to be able to do it early, although I might choose to retire only partially in various ways.)

Solutions (I am including partial solutions that definitely don't solve the problem completely, and unlikely solutions that probably don't help at all but could, and stupid solutions that might solve the problem or at least help with it, but at other unacceptable costs):

  1. Adjust my level of paranoia about future adversity. (Before I am comfortable retiring, I need to be confident that even in quite improbably bad possible futures I will not run out.) [4]
    1. Take up Buddhist-style meditation or Stoicism or something of the sort, cultivating an inner conviction that even the worst that can happen (whatever it is) is survivable.
    2. Persuade my wife to take up with someone else and bring our child with her, so that I no longer have to worry about the wellbeing of other people besides myself. (This has obvious adverse consequences of its own. On the other hand, it is also an answer in category 2 below as well as in this category 1.)
    3. Do extensive modelling of plausible financial futures; the how-much-do-I-need heuristics I use are fairly conservative, and perhaps looking at it more closely will show that I don't need to be so careful.
    4. Change my current policy of assuming (almost certainly very counterfactually) that my parents will be immortal, squander all their money, choose to leave it to a dogs' home rather than to me, etc. (I currently make that assumption because (a) I think it's healthier psychologically not to see one's parents' deaths as an opportunity, (b) I think it's healthier psychologically to take responsibility for one's own financial security, and (c) I don't like relying on things that are outside my control. I don't actually think changing this would be good overall.)
  2. Reduce how much money I feel I need in retirement. (Most of these, if implemented immediately, also increase how much I can save, which also helps.) [11]
    1. Get out of the habit of eating fancy food. Buy the cheapest of everything and get used to it, find a repertoire of frugal but edible meals, stop cooking unnecessary things like cakes, etc.
    2. Stop buying books.
    3. Stop upgrading computer hardware; progress has slowed a lot, after all.
    4. Move to a smaller house, thus reducing utility bills and certain local taxes.
    5. Don't have a house at all; live in a caravan or car, or a tent, or become a squatter. (This may also be a way of making 1.2 happen.)
    6. Move to an area where things are cheaper.
    7. Move to a completely different country where things are much cheaper.
    8. Completely give up driving; walk, cycle and use public transport.
    9. Tell my child not to expect any more than the barest minimum assistance from me -- no paying of university fees, no help buying a house, etc. (This may also be a way of making 1.2 happen.)
    10. Abandon hobbies that cost money, replacing them with ones that are free or nearly so.
    11. Contract a disease that greatly shortens my likely lifespan but doesn't require expensive care before my tragically premature death.
  3. Acquire more money. [19]
    1. Just keep on working and saving for a while.
    2. Negotiate aggressively with my employer for a higher salary.
    3. Shop around actively for jobs that might pay more.
    4. Identify changes in my skills, behaviour, etc., that would make me more likely to be promoted, and implement them.
    5. Switch from tech R&D (which is pretty well paid and mostly fun) to finance (which is better paid but I would probably find much less fun).
    6. Move to a city where salaries are higher. (In the UK, currently working in Cambridge, that probably means London. Note that cost of living there is really high so it would not obviously be a win overall.)
    7. Move to a completely different country where salaries are much higher. (That would mean the US. Not the same completely different country as in 2.7 above.)
    8. Wait for my parents to die.
    9. Turn to crime. If sufficiently unprincipled, I could probably find several ways of getting hold of quite a lot of money.
    10. Return to my long-ago-abandoned career in pure mathematics and somehow solve one of the "Milennium Problems". (Not a strategy with a very high probability of success.)
    11. Gamble (e.g., lottery tickets). Negative expectation, of course, but it could solve this problem. Probably more likely to than trying to prove the Riemann Hypothesis.
    12. Start a company and lead it to a successful exit.
    13. Sell some organs.
    14. Sell a lot of my existing possessions. (Most things sell second-hand for much less than they were bought for new; this isn't a great way to raise money.)
    15. Get divorced and marry someone very rich.
    16. Become an artist and persuade the art world that my creations are (or, almost as good, soon will be) super-valuable.
    17. Persuade my wife to take a higher-paid job.
    18. Persuade my child to take a job and hand the income over to me. (Difficult to make much money this way at her current age, even aside from ethical issues and the like.)
    19. Stop donating to charities.
  4. Get other sources of money besides salary and investment earnings/growth. [8]
    1. Write a computer or phone app that people are willing to pay for and remain so for the next several years.
    2. Buy a house (or apartments, or commercial property) and rent it out. Obviously only any use if the rental income plus appreciation minus expenses is more than I currently get in appreciation of other investments.
    3. Invent and patent some wondrous new invention, and collect royalties. (Another low-probability strategy.)
    4. Write books. (Not too difficult to make very small amounts of money this way. More is unfortunately much harder.)
    5. Found a religious cult and let it be known that donations are pleasing to the gods.
    6. Start a pyramid scheme, and watch the suckers' money pour in.
    7. Get elected to high political office. Let it be known that I take bribes.
    8. Get elected to high political office. Let it be known that I might be willing to arrange for regulations to favour certain companies. Just happen to take nicely paid non-exec directorships, advisory posts, etc., with them after leaving office. Of course this is not at all the same as 4.7 above, dear me no.
  5. Change the world in such a way as to invalidate (pessimistic) assumptions implicit above. [5]
    1. Persuade the government of the country where I live to implement a robust universal basic income scheme.
    2. Develop a superintelligent AI, sufficiently well aligned with humanity's interests that the near-magical technologies it develops usher in a new post-scarcity age.
    3. Develop a superintelligent AI, which doesn't give a damn about humanity's interests but is sufficiently well aligned with mine that the near-magical technologies it develops, or the near-magical criminal schemes it thinks up, or whatever, give me everything I need for the rest of my life.
    4. Lead a communist revolution, after which private property is an irrelevance and the glorious all-benevolent state will ensure that everyone has everything they need.
    5. Create a new cryptocurrency and persuade everyone to start using it instead of dollars, RMB, bitcoin, etc.
  6. Other. [3]
    1. Die. My financial needs for retirement are then zero. (This is another one that has a few downsides.)
    2. Abandon my preference for not needing to work. I still won't feel comfortably able to retire, but I won't care any more.
    3. Once such a thing is possible, get uploaded. Virtual-me is probably cheaper to run than real-me.
Comment by gjm on The Trouble With Babbles · 2020-10-22T23:34:55.719Z · LW · GW

I have the same concern. My own solution, to whatever extent it is one, is to try to make my answers reasonably diverse and creative -- which, yes, means doing some pruning -- but also to allow myself to write a boring answer or two if it seems like I am not going to make it to 50 without doing so.

I might rationalize this by saying that the actual skill that it's useful to train is not "babbling" or "pruning", both of which are implementation details, but "producing lots of potentially useful ideas", and that even taking some trouble to avoid boring answers I still find myself erring on the side of not-really-useful ideas, which suggests that whatever the underlying mental process I am at least doing something babble-ish overall.

(But that would be a rationalization. I think the actual reason is that writing boring things feels unsatisfying.)

Comment by gjm on The date of AI Takeover is not the day the AI takes over · 2020-10-22T23:16:07.985Z · LW · GW

What does "inherently a weapons technology" mean? Given some technology, how does one determine whether or not it is "inherently a weapons technology"?

I ask because it seems to me that AI is clearly not "inherently a weapons technology" as I would use those words, and I suspect you mean something different by them.

Regardless, any generalization of AI that includes (e.g.) pointed sticks and flint arrowheads is surely too broad for present purposes; even if "how do we stop humans screwing everything up with whatever tools they have available?" is a more important question than "how do we stop AIs screwing up in ways that their makers and owners would be horrified by?", it's a different question, with (probably) different answers, and the latter is the subject here.

Comment by gjm on Police violence: The veil of darkness · 2020-10-22T18:19:15.456Z · LW · GW

I didn't say anything about "social norms". Please stop making guesses at my opinions and motivations; you keep getting them wrong.

I don't in the least think that my "public claims of offence" are a good reason for you to change your behaviour. I am arguing that the possibility that what you say, how you say it and where you say it might result in many other people being annoyed, upset or distracted from things that are valuable to them might be a reason for you to change your behaviour.

However, it seems that anything I say that would involve your actions being motivated at all by other people's well-being or preferences just bounces off, literally as if I hadn't said it or had said something entirely difference. Perhaps you just 100% don't care about anyone else but yourself, in which case indeed I am wasting my time raising such issues.

Indeed I don't make a distinction between speech and action, because speech is one variety of action. Sometimes it's a variety of action that has relatively slight consequences: "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me", as the schoolyard saying has it. But sometimes not so much: the words "I sentence you to death", said by the right person in the right context, are about as consequential as any action gets.

I don't know what "lexical traps" you think I'm trying to set, but I'm not trying to trap anyone, I don't think you're Satan, I can't imagine why anyone would think that "who a person is makes everything they say wrong or a lie". Again, it seems as if you're arguing with some imaginary figure who is (forgive me for saying) much stupider than I actually am, and it's not helping.

I am glad to see that you agree that the examples I gave are ones where saying particular things would be a bad idea, but it seems as if you may have entirely misunderstood the point of those examples, which was simply to demonstrate that sometimes saying a thing can have adverse consequences for other people besides the person saying it. You've responded as if I were saying that I would expect you to say those things; I wouldn't, and it's not relevant whether you would.

And, once again, the way you came into this discussion -- "Here's a fun experiment: look up the correlation between children raised by single mothers and criminality in those children/adults. Then look up the rates of single motherhood in the black community." -- looks to me very much more like its goal is "spreading ideology" and not at all like bravely speaking out against injustice (your first attempt at framing it) and even less like trying to challenge, refine and update your own ideas (your second attempt at framing it).

I dare say we are fundamentally different in various respects, but nothing you've said gives me the impression that your mental model of me has very much in common with the reality.

Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 ways of solving a problem in your life · 2020-10-22T16:48:08.011Z · LW · GW

Thanks. (I see that once again I have made an answer where I intended to make a comment. LW devs, if any are reading this: maybe consider whether there's a way to make this mistake harder to make? Though it's possible that I'm just uniquely careless and no one else has the same problem.)

Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 ways of solving a problem in your life · 2020-10-22T11:42:11.365Z · LW · GW

I'm afraid I find the challenge statement inconsistent and confusing.

First you say "hurled into existence, facing an empty universe". Then you talk about things like uncomfortable chairs and math olympiad scores. And then you say "in your life". Are you looking for each participant to identify a specific problem they actually face? Or one a hypothetical person might face? Or one someone in an otherwise empty universe might face?

I think you intend the first of those. But the rhetorical flourishes around the challenge all seem to point in other directions, so I want to check.

Comment by gjm on Police violence: The veil of darkness · 2020-10-22T11:37:52.724Z · LW · GW

You say

For example, you suggest that blaming black people is something that is being done too much, as if black people cannot and should not be held responsible for the crimes they voluntarily commit. You also suggest White Man's Burden as if the black identity grouping is more important than individual circumstances.

So far as I can see, I have suggested neither of those things, still less suggested them "as if". I have said that you apparently think black people aren't blamed[1] enough for crime; I haven't mentioned my own opinions on that point at all. Regardless of whether they should be blamed more or less, or treated as more or less responsible, I certainly do not think that black people can't or shouldn't be held responsible for the crimes they commit. (Though of course there are circumstances in which a person's responsibility for a thing they do is greater or less -- e.g., if I kidnap your children and threaten to torture them unless you put some graffiti on a wall, then you should be held less responsible if you do in fact go and graffiti the wall -- and some such circumstances may vary systematically with race somehow.)

I don't know what you mean by "You also suggest White Man's Burden". The original "white man's burden", in Kipling's poem with that title, was the obligation to take over and rule places full of not-white people, For Their Own Good. I'm certainly not suggesting that and I can't see why you'd think I am, so you must mean something else, but I don't know what. Regardless of what you mean by that and whether I'm suggesting it, I don't know what it would even mean for it to be true that "the black identity grouping is more important than individual circumstances". Sometimes individual circumstances are what matter. Sometimes things affecting a whole group are what matter. Sometimes both.

I completely agree that neither you nor anyone should be punished or advantaged for what your ancestors did in their bedrooms, nor for who those ancestors were. I have the impression that you think I think otherwise, but I don't know why.

I don't know what you think I think about crime in black communities. (I remark that your use of the phrase "the black community" seems to me to have the same sort of problems you are complaining about elsewhere. Are Thomas Sowell and Cornel West part of "the black community"? Are they murdering their neighbours?) It seems as if you are picking a stereotype and assuming I fit it, and I wish you wouldn't do that. As for "demand genuflection to you and your neighbourhood", that seems to me much more paranoia than reality.

[1] I take your point that blame and responsibility are not the same thing, and perhaps it would have been more accurate if I'd said "When you see people not putting enough of the responsibility for crime on black people ..." instead of "When you see people not blaming black people enough for crime ...".

Comment by gjm on Police violence: The veil of darkness · 2020-10-22T11:21:42.529Z · LW · GW

A place doesn't need to be a "social club" for it to matter how your actions there affect other people.

I own my mental reaction to physical pain too, but you still harm me if you slap me in the face and I think that's a reason not to do it.

I have changed my thinking on some things, including some rather large ones, in ways other than by talking to people. In any case, I don't think "Here's a fun experiment: look up the correlation between children raised by single mothers and criminality in those children/adults. Then look up the rates of single motherhood in the black community." is the way anyone starts a conversation when their purpose is really learning and possibly changing their ideas.

(Also, it seems like you're accusing me of some sort of inconsistency for saying that you should leave some opinions unexpressed but also wanting you to be open to changing those opinions. That's rather unfair since I haven't in fact said anything about being open to changing those opinions.)

No one is asking you to lie for social gain. No one is asking you to lie at all, or suggesting that you should. If someone says "Hey, Stuart, do you think black people are worse than white people?" or whatever, I would encourage you to tell the truth. (Though I am guessing that if someone asked you that straight out, you quite likely would "lie for social gain". That's your decision.)

Let me remind you of the actual history here, which doesn't involve anyone suggesting that you should lie. You want to talk about certain topics. You said "Since the cost of asking is so low it pays to ask frequently". I pointed out that you appear to be considering only the cost to you and that there are other costs borne by others if you are unpleasant about it (as you put it "... to ask frequently (and often in ways that people may not like)"). So: what I'm actually suggesting you might do is to not "ask in ways that people may not like" for the discussions you would like to have. No lying involved: it's purely a matter of not doing a particular thing in a particular way. And the reason I am suggesting you might do that is because the result may be that other people are annoyed (at having a discussion of something else interrupted by your attempts to talk about the shortcomings of black people and culture, or at having insulting things said about them and their culture). Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean by "social gain", but to me "for social gain" means "to improve my own social position", and that's not what I was suggesting at all.

If "my conduct affects only my reputation" means that it doesn't affect anyone else's reputation then it's probably true (though, I dunno, in some circumstances it might affect the reputation of your parents or teachers, maybe: "wow, did they never teach you X in high school?"). But it does, none the less, affect other people. The costs of one person's behaviour do not only affect that person.

Maybe it will help if I give some other examples where a "compulsion" to speak your mind on a particular issue would affect other people and might be a bad idea for that reason.

  • You think the person you're talking to is really ugly. So you drop "wow, you're really ugly" into the conversation. Possible adverse consequences: they are upset; the conversation is derailed and less productive.
  • You think the person you're talking to is really sexy. So you say "you are the sexiest woman I have seen in weeks". The ongoing conversation is part of a business meeting. Possible adverse consequences: they feel you aren't taking the ideas you're actually supposed to be discussing seriously and just see them as a piece of meat; the company you're working for loses a contract it would otherwise have got, so lots of people are poorer; the other person, who repeatedly finds herself treated in this way by male colleagues and doesn't like it, leaves an industry she otherwise enjoys in the hope of better treatment elsewhere.
  • You walk past a church and notice that there's some sort of service going on inside. You go in and shout "There is no god! Your religion is bullshit!". Possible adverse consequences: many people's day is just a little bit less pleasant because someone shouted at them when they were trying to pray.
  • You walk past a church and notice that there is a concert going on inside. (A string quartet, let's say.) You go in and shout "There is no god! This church's religion is bullshit!". Possible adverse consequences: many people's day is just a little bit less pleasant because their music-listening was disrupted.

(In each case there are also possible adverse consequences for you but I assume you're already able to see those. There are also possible not-adverse consequences. The only point I am making with these examples is that saying things you sincerely believe to be true can be hurtful to other people, disrupt conversations, etc.: the adverse consequences are not only borne by you.)

Comment by gjm on A tale from Communist China · 2020-10-21T22:15:13.247Z · LW · GW

If "The US had something to do with the coup" is so vague as to be trivial, then "This meme that the US had anything to do with Pinochet's coup has to stop" is so overstated as to be trivially wrong. (Obviously that's not your fault, unless you and frontier64 happen to be the same person going by two names.)

Your more finely-tuned statements all seem reasonable to me, though I don't know enough about the Pinochet coup to say more than that.

Comment by gjm on What are some beautiful, rationalist artworks? · 2020-10-21T01:20:10.747Z · LW · GW

Oh, that's a bit disappointing. I'll put that in the "just for aesthetics" bucket, then. To me, that makes this feel less like "rationalist art", though I'm not sure how fair that is.

Comment by gjm on A tale from Communist China · 2020-10-21T01:13:10.946Z · LW · GW

I have already explicitly disagreed twice with that "extraordinary claim". The much weaker claim that I am defending (again: tentatively, in the knowledge that I could turn out to be wrong because the evidence readily available to me is not conclusive) is that the US had something to do with the Pinochet coup. frontier64's original comment here denied that, not merely the stronger (and, I agree, probably wrong) claim that the US was responsible for the coup, and that's the only thing I'm disagreeing with frontier64 about here.

(Well, no, it's not the only thing; we also apparently disagree about whether frontier64 did or did not cite sources in support of the statement that the US had nothing to do with the Pinochet coup. That's a thing anyone can check just by reading the comments in this thread, though.)

Comment by gjm on A tale from Communist China · 2020-10-20T17:15:10.973Z · LW · GW

(Aside: I'm a bit surprised by how angry you seem to be about this. Is there some particular context?)

I have cited my sources in both my original comment and the followup

Literally the only source you cite in your original comment, so far as I can see, is the Wikipedia article already referenced by the person you were responding to. I cite the same source myself. Why is that sufficient citation when you do it but not when I do it? -- Or is there some other citation I have missed despite carefully rereading both your comments?

I have included footnotes in my last reply.

Including footnotes only counts as citing sources if the footnotes contain actual citations. In this case, your footnotes lead to two other Wikipedia articles and a transcript of a recording of a White House meeting involving Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. One of those Wikipedia articles is about the 1970 election in Chile and therefore has little to say about the US's involvement if any in the 1973 coup, and what you actually use it to support is a statement about how much of the vote Allende got in 1970, which again has little to say about the US's involvement if any in the 1973 coup. The other Wikipedia article, about Pinochet, you cite in support of a claim that Pinochet was in charge of cracking down on anti-Allende riots before the coup. Again, this tells us nothing about whether and how the US was involved in the coup. Finally, the transcript (from 1971) indicates that in 1971 Nixon thought Allende was terrible and didn't want to increase US military aid to Chile; this again says nothing about whether or not the US got involved in the coup two years later.

A source citation for the actually controversial claim you're making, namely that the US had nothing at all to do with the coup, might be e.g. to someone saying "The US had nothing to do with the Pinochet coup" or to a transcript of a White House meeting in 1973 where someone says "Mr President, this guy Pinochet wants to mount a coup and wonders if we can help" and Nixon says "I don't give a damn what he wants; we're continuing to leave Chile completely alone. No intervention, and that's my final word". Etc. Nothing remotely like any of that is in any of the things you cited. So, again, you are complaining that I have not cited sources for the claim that the US had some involvement in the coup (other than, y'know, two historians with relevant expertise and the head of the NSA's "Chile Documentation Project") and you are offering no sources for the claim that the US had no involvement in the coup.

To be clear, I'm not saying you're obliged to provide any such citations. You're welcome to go on just asserting that the US had no involvement. But in that case you have no business complaining that I have provided no citations for my opposing claim.

If you want a response actually give me a theory of the case, give me some explanation for how the US was behind the coup.

I am not claiming the US was "behind the coup". I am claiming (tentatively, and willing to be corrected with actual evidence) that it looks as if the US had some involvement in the coup, so that your original statement "This meme that the US had anything to do with Pinochet's coup has to stop." goes a bit too far. (I agreed with you that lsusr was wrong to say that "the US overthrew" Chile's government.)

Comment by gjm on A tale from Communist China · 2020-10-20T10:28:25.671Z · LW · GW

It's true that I haven't given details (not least because I don't know them) nor cited my sources (beyond what you can find in the Wikipedia article from which I quoted them). It's a bit odd, though, for you to complain at my lack of such details while giving no such details yourself.

I made some assertions about the Pinochet coup that are backed only by references to Robert Dallek (a history professor at reputable universities, specializing in US presidents), Peter Winn (a history professor at a reputable university, specializing in Latin America), and Peter Kornbluh (director of the National Security Archive's Chile Documentation Project).

You made some contrary assertions about the Pinochet coup that are backed only by your say-so.

That doesn't mean mine are right and yours are wrong! The Wikipedia page may be misrepresenting what those historians say, or cherry-picking particular claims that give a misleading impression of their opinions. Or the historians might be wrong; history is difficult. But it seems a bit rich to complain that I'm not providing enough evidence in enough detail, when you have provided zero evidence in zero detail.

(It would be less odd if the opinion you're complaining of inadequate support for were some sort of fringe view: I think it's reasonable to have a heuristic where one needs more evidence when defying conventional opinion. But, whether it's right or wrong, the idea that the US was involved in the Pinochet coup is the conventional opinion.)

Comment by gjm on A tale from Communist China · 2020-10-19T16:31:15.825Z · LW · GW

I agree that "the USA overthrew Chile's government" seems like it goes too far. But your initial comment, objecting to the idea that the US had anything to do with Pinochet's coup, also seems like it goes too far.

A few excerpts from that same Wikipedia page:

After a review of recordings of telephone conversations between Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Robert Dallek concluded that both of them used the CIA to actively destabilize the Allende government. [...] In one particular conversation about the news of Allende's overthrow, Kissinger complains about the lack of recognition of the American role in the overthrow of a "communist" government, upon which Nixon remarked, "Well, we didn't – as you know – our hand doesn't show on this one." [...] Historian Peter Winn found "extensive evidence" of United States complicity in the coup. He states that its covert support was crucial to engineering the coup, as well as for the consolidation of power by the Pinochet regime following the takeover. [...] Peter Kornbluh asserts that the CIA destabilized Chile and helped create the conditions for the coup, citing documents declassified by the Clinton administration. Other authors point to the involvement of the Defense Intelligence Agency, agents of which allegedly secured the missiles used to bombard the La Moneda Palace.

That last one is only "allegedly". But all of that looks, on the face of it, like the US absolutely did have something to do with Pinochet's coup, no?

Comment by gjm on What are some beautiful, rationalist artworks? · 2020-10-19T12:51:11.113Z · LW · GW

Are the books that are visible in this picture actual parts of the library's catalogue, intended to be available for reading or borrowing, or are they just there for aesthetics?

(It seems like it must be the latter, for at least some of them.)

Comment by gjm on Police violence: The veil of darkness · 2020-10-19T12:48:14.840Z · LW · GW

Since the cost of asking is so low it pays to ask frequently (and often in ways that people may not like).

If you care only about getting what you want and not at all about not annoying other people. In a public forum, where there's one of you and a great many other potentially-annoyed other people, that's an attitude that can end up doing substantial net harm.

I can't be anyone but myself

I think this is an example of what Daniel Dennett calls a "deepity": it's ambiguous between something that's clearly true but has no interesting implications, and something that would have interesting implications if true but may well be false.

So, obviously you are the person you are, and whatever anyone does it will remain true that you are the person you are. This is a triviality, and it tells us nothing. For instance, it's no argument against dissembling or hypocrisy or tact or politeness or whatever; you can do any of those things, or not do them, and it will still be true that you are the person you are.

But it seems like you want to draw stronger implications. Something like "... so I have to behave authentically, I shouldn't try to hide my opinions and attitudes in any way, and they aren't going to change." But for any of that to follow, "I can't be anyone but myself" needs to mean something much stronger and more debatable.

Comment by gjm on Police violence: The veil of darkness · 2020-10-19T12:36:03.768Z · LW · GW

So ... when you see people not blaming black people enough for crime, this produces a "literal compulsion" to intervene, so strong that rather than doing "the smart thing" you have to intervene in the name of justice "no matter what that costs me".

(Even in a case like this one, where so far as I can see no one is being treated unjustly at all, and the sort of concerns you raise are explicitly acknowledged by the OP.)

But if it's a matter of black people being treated unjustly by white people, you don't intervene "without good cause", and you can comfortably ignore them because it's "not my problem".

You might want to think some more about whether your compulsion to intervene in the first sort of case is actually about injustice.

Comment by gjm on Journal article: "The Mythical Taboo on Race and Intelligence" · 2020-10-17T23:53:51.546Z · LW · GW

Hmm, maybe. Presumably the scenario you have here is applying for a job; I don't think anyone's going to get fired for being associated with Less Wrong unless things get much worse than they are now, one way or another. Even then, this seems to me some way from being a real danger at present.

[EDITED to add:] I do completely agree, though, with your point that seeing that someone uses Less Wrong is much easier than seeing that someone is a rationalist when all you're doing is a cursory web search or whatever.

Comment by gjm on Journal article: "The Mythical Taboo on Race and Intelligence" · 2020-10-17T00:48:18.260Z · LW · GW

Rationalists[1] already have something of a reputation for being hereditarians[2].

[1] By which I mean something like "people who use the term 'rationalist' for themselves in internet discussions". (The term has a number of other uses.)

[2] By which I mean something like "people who think it likely that there are significant differences in important psychological characteristics between groups that approximate the popular idea of races". (The term has a number of other uses.)

Comment by gjm on Journal article: "The Mythical Taboo on Race and Intelligence" · 2020-10-17T00:45:18.980Z · LW · GW

Writing an article "There is a taboo on saying X" is a win/win strategy.

If there is indeed a taboo, you are right and most likely everyone will see that from the response your article gets.

But if there is no taboo, you still win because people who like to think of themselves as beleaguered underdogs fighting for truth will lap up what you say.

In reality I think neither is win/win. If you write an article saying "There is no taboo" and there is a taboo then (1) your article itself may fall foul of the taboo and (2) anyone with enough nous to discern the taboo will see that you're wrong, which will harm your reputation. If you write an article saying "There is a taboo" and there is a taboo then your article itself will probably fall foul of the taboo. If you write an article saying "There is a taboo" and there is no taboo then again the smartest best-informed people will see you're wrong and think less of you.

Comment by gjm on Police violence: The veil of darkness · 2020-10-16T16:49:54.654Z · LW · GW

Criminals are being shot at rates approximately reflected by their criminality.

You should follow the link in the OP, and then follow the link in that article to its predecessor which explains why the sort of simple-minded ratio-comparing that produces that conclusion is too simple-minded. And yes, it also means "a larger fraction of black people are killed by cops than of white people, therefore the police are racist" is too simple-minded.

I'll save you a couple of clicks. The problem is that police bias, to whatever extent it exists, can be one of the causes of the difference in observed criminality between black and white people. That's true even if there is (as I think "everyone" agrees there is) a real difference in actual criminality.

The obvious explanation for the figures seems to me to be that (again, this is in the US; other countries may or may not be similar) police, collectively, have some bias against black people; that black people, collectively, are somewhat more frequently criminal than white people; that naive estimates of police bias are too high because of the difference in criminality; that naive estimates of the difference in criminality are too high because of the police bias.

What we really want here is some way of decoupling the two. And, guess what?, that's exactly the topic of the OP here, so there's a certain irony in your using this is a place to complain that everyone always just assumes that the problem is 100% police bias.

A testable hypothesis, so why don't we test it?

That is literally what the OP is about ways of doing. (And, having found a way of doing it, it does in fact find some evidence that there is in fact bias in law enforcement.)

If there's something about being a cop that turns everyone [...] into a racist

No one is claiming that, nor do the things people actually are claiming imply it. Some relevant propositions that, unlike that one, might well be true (and seem to me to be good fits for what evidence I know of): lots of people in the US are racist; racism in the US is more often anti-black than anti-white; there is a correlation between anti-black racism and wanting to be a cop. 

The fundamental assertion is that blue on black fatalities are a product of racism

I don't know what "The fundamental assertion is ..." means. Whose fundamental assertion? It is definitely not a fundamental assertion made by the OP. It is not a fundamental assertion I am making here -- though I would be surprised if racism weren't at least one element, because it seems like a lot of people in the US are really racist.

when will it ever be the right time for a conversation that takes the popular and wholly socially acceptable dogma about race, police and violence and throws it away?

Literally throws it away? When the people involved in the conversation don't believe the dogma at all. Until then, if you believe the dogma is wrong and want to have conversations that don't buy into it, step one is persuading your interlocutors that the dogma is wrong. Effective persuasion does not usually look like "ha ha ha, black people are criminals because there are so many black single mothers".

I literally have a compulsion to wade into situations that I view as unjust

Interesting. Has this compulsion ever made you wade into situations where black people are being treated unjustly by white people? How about (it's not directly relevant here, I'm just curious) situations where women are being treated unjustly by men? Or is it only one sort of injustice that you feel this way about?

Comment by gjm on Police violence: The veil of darkness · 2020-10-16T14:00:16.652Z · LW · GW

What sort of "engagement" do you think would be helpful here?

Everyone (by which of course I mean something like "pretty much everyone who's generally reasonable at all") concedes that in the US black people are more often criminals than white people. So you've got a candidate explanation: maybe it's because more black people grow up without their fathers. Could be. That can join the queue of other candidate explanations. Maybe it's because black people tend to be poorer and poverty causes crime. Maybe it's because black people tend to live in poorer areas and poverty causes crime. Maybe it's path-dependence: for reasons that no longer exist, majority-black areas became full of crime, and areas with a lot of crime tend to stay that way. Maybe it's some sort of genetic difference. Maybe it's because schools in black areas are worse and good education reduces crime. Maybe it's because black people learn that The System is not on their side, and therefore have less respect for it. Maybe there are bad things in black cultures that encourage crime and violence. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

We know that black people and white people in the US don't commit crime at the same rates, or commit the same mix of crimes. We also strongly suspect bias in law enforcement. So the article linked here suggests a way of detecting bias that works more or less regardless of the differences in actual crime rates. Popping up in the comments to say "ahahaha, but here's a reason why black people might commit more crime!!!!!" completely misses the point, and raises suspicions that you're saying it not so much because it's relevant as because you like saying it. Which may be one reason for all the downvotes you're getting.

Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 ways of hiding Einstein's pen for fifty years · 2020-10-15T22:39:15.182Z · LW · GW

Assumptions: (1) I need to do something that at least slightly decreases the chance that these "evil forces" get hold of the pen in the next 50 years, compared with some baseline that may or may not be consistent from one idea to the next. (2) I need to keep it reasonably likely that in 50 years' time I can still get hold of the pen so I can sell it to Einstein. (3) What I do needs to be at least in some sense possible in 1855, so e.g. "put it on a rocket in a highly eccentric orbit around the sun that will make it crash into the earth in 50 years' time" is no good because there are no such rockets yet. Maybe I can get fairies to hide it because fairies were "known" about in 1855, but I can't pull any time-dilation tricks using black holes because no one knew about black holes or time dilation in 1855. (4) I do actually have to be hiding the pen, in some sense; bribing the forces of evil to do a different kind of evil, or saying "screw it, there's no such thing as magic, so I don't care whether this pen is lost" won't do. (5) The forces of evil have some idea that I have the thing and what is special about it, but probably don't know too exactly what it looks like or have the ability to spy on me at all times or read my mind. -- All of this does restrict the options somewhat, so there will be some cases of Variations On A Theme below.

Remark: I'm having trouble figuring out any concrete set of assumptions about the forces of evil that doesn't rather break the puzzle. If they know who I am, they can find me and torture me or something of the sort, and although torture notoriously doesn't work very well they've got at least a good chance of figuring out where the pen is -- unless I have e.g. delegated the task of hiding it to someone else, which is a reasonable thing to do but doesn't really have 50 meaningfully different variants. And if for some reason they can't do that, then instead the problem is too easy; it doesn't seem as if I need to do anything at all. I hope the list below is at something like the intended level of paranoia.

Remark: If it means anything to say that the pen rather than Einstein is magical, perhaps I should forget about hiding it and start using it to write physics papers myself, and see what happens. (Hmm... Am I by any chance James Clerk Maxwell? The timing kinda checks out.)

  1. Put it in a nondescript box somewhere.
  2. Disguise it as something else. A magic wand, a stick, etc.
  3. Build it into an item of furniture: the leg of a table, perhaps.
  4. Bury it.
  5. Just use it as a pen. The forces of evil will never expect that something I'm treating so mundane a way could be so magical.
  6. Disguise it as, or hide it inside, something else, and then give that to someone else to hide, giving them an entirely false story about what it is and why it needs to be hidden.
  7. Make a replica having (so far as I know) no magical powers whatever, and conspicuously hide the replica in some manner that the forces of evil can defeat but not without substantial effort. Hope that they do so and then think they've won. If so, it doesn't much matter what I do with the real magic pen.
  8. Make many, many replicas. In this case I'm not trying to fool the forces of evil, merely to DDOS them. Of course I will need some way to identify the real one; maybe I give them all serial numbers and I remember which number goes with the magic pen.
  9. Make many replicas. Make no attempt to know which is the right one (so e.g. the forces of evil can't discover which is which by torturing me). Then, fifty years from now, sell them all to Einstein. According to the problem specification, the inexorable Laws of Magic then guarantee that, since I've sold him the magic pen, he will use that one to write his papers.
  10. Do nothing. Apparently some infallible magical oracle has told me that I will sell Einstein this pen in 50 years and he'll use it to write papers about his relatives, or something. If so, the forces of evil can't get hold of it in any way that stops that happening.
  11. Use whatever powers of clairvoyance enabled me to know that I'll sell the pen to Einstein, etc., to determine where the forces of evil will look. Put the pen somewhere else.
  12. If the magic has the property that I can afford to lose part of the pen and replace it: take the pen apart and hide the parts; every now and then, collect together the hidden parts (aside from whatever bits the forces of evil have got hold of) and put them together with suitable replacement parts to make a whole pen, so I again have a single magic pen; then repeat. This way the forces of evil need to steal more than one pen's worth of parts in order to win.
  13. Make sure that wherever I go, I carry a strong metal box, about 20cm long and 5cm across, and that I frequently check that it hasn't been lost. The forces of evil will assume that this contains the pen. Eventually they will no doubt steal it from me. Of course the pen is actually somewhere else entirely, and the forces of evil have wasted a lot of time and effort. (This needs to be combined with other techniques.)
  14. Deposit it discreetly with a Swiss bank. This will both keep the pen safe and have it conveniently positioned for sale to Einstein in Zurich.
  15. Sew it into the hem (or some similar bit) of an article of clothing I wear. Transfer it from one to another often enough that I don't arouse suspicion by wearing the same thing all the time. This way the pen is always on my person and hence harder to steal.
  16. Shove it in a desk drawer along with all my other pens, making no effort to remember which one it is. As with #5 above, this should avoid suspicion. As with #9 above, sell the entire contents of the drawer to Einstein in 50 years' time.
  17. Place it in a hollowed-out book, among thousands on my shelves. (I do in fact have thousands of books. That was probably much harder in 1855 than it is now, so maybe it's only hundreds; that could still be sufficient.)
  18. I think 1855 is late enough that I might plausibly have plumbing in my house of roughly the kind we have today. Fit some extra pipes, made to look as if they carry water or, better, sewage, but in fact don't, and hide the pen inside one of those.
  19. Hide it within a wall of my house. It had better be one I was intending to repaint anyway, to hide the newly replaced mortar or drilled-out brick or whatever.
  20. Acquire the habit of collecting musical instruments. Place the pen inside the tubing of a brass or woodwind instrument that I don't know how to play.
  21. Become a keen hunter. Place the pen inside one barrel of a double-barrelled shotgun. (Because then, with a bit of care, perhaps I can still shoot with it, making it less prominent as That Gun I Never Actually Use.)
  22. If I have a few years before the forces of evil catch up with me: drill out a bit of a growing tree trunk and put the pen in there; the tree will continue growing and engulf it, hopefully in a way that doesn't make the history too obvious.
  23. Persuade a surgeon to embed it in one of my thighbones. (I don't know whether this is actually possible. It again depends on not being observed by the forces of evil until I've had time to recover from this rather drastic procedure.)
  24. Persuade a builder to incorporate it into a house newly built.
  25. Obviously the magic bit must be the nib, right? That's the only part that does the actual writing. Well, it seems like we could incorporate a pen nib easily enough into the insides of an old-style pocketwatch. Watch-making is therefore my new profession; build the nib somehow into the workings of a particularly elegant watch and sell it to someone I can rely upon to keep it for display rather than using it or selling it on. Fifty years later, buy it back. (Einstein, on discovering this way of securing magical physics-paper-writing pens: "If I had known, I would have become a watchmaker.")
  26. It seems that in many of these schemes the weakest link is me. So let's hide me and hopefully the pen with me. Fake suicide or accidental death and start a new life with a new name, taking nothing but the clothes I'm wearing ... and this pen I happen to be carrying.
  27. Travel abroad, moving on from each location to another as quickly as possible. Back in 1855 I don't think it was so easy to follow someone through a lengthy sequence of such moves. Change name from time to time if possible. End up somewhere out of the way.
  28. Implant it in a giant tortoise. (Might be tricky. Might be bad for the tortoise and make it not long-lived enough. Might not be possible to avoid visible marks.)
  29. Apparently we are in a world with miraculous physics-inspiring pens and clairvoyance. Perhaps we have invisibility spells too: make the pen invisible.
  30. Or perhaps instead there are spells of the "notice me not" type. That would do, too.
  31. Or spells for teleporting objects around, in which case perhaps I can get the pen into (say) the inside of a cave a mile underground, without any risk of being seen going there. Of course this is only any use if I can get it back again later.
  32. Or spells for turning things into other things, either in reality or in appearance. Perhaps instead of implanting the pen into a giant tortoise I can make it be a giant tortoise, for instance.
  33. Or, combining this with the idea of hiding myself, make the start-a-new-life approach work much better by magically altering my appearance completely.
  34. Or, addressing the I-am-the-weakest-link problem differently, magically suppress my memory of where I have hidden the pen for fifty years.
  35. Persuade a sculptor to integrate the pen (invisibly) into a sculpture in stone, bronze or similar. This hides the pen in something solid and hard to get into, that probably isn't going anywhere in a hurry, and whose owner is likely to keep it reasonably well protected. Of course I need to be able to buy it back 50 years from now, and artwork prices are inconveniently unpredictable.
  36. Hide the pen part-way up my chimney. The forces of evil are unlikely to be working as chimney-sweeps, especially as so many of those in 1855 are children, and I can just leave my chimney uncleaned or get it cleaned only by individuals I know and trust.
  37. Even better than building the pen into a house, build it under a house, which had better be mine, by incorporating it into the foundations. Very difficult to steal, but of course also very difficult to retrieve; I need not to mind the expense and inconvenience of demolishing the house later.
  38. Incorporate it into the frame of a bicycle. Sorry, I mean a velocipede.
  39. Persuade a condemned criminal, or terminally ill patient at the point of death, to eat it. It will be buried with them, and I can dig up the body later. (Swallowing something as large as a pen is difficult, but I think there are those who can do it. And it needs to be tough enough not to be wrecked by the stomach acid.)
  40. The whole scenario is absurd enough that this is plainly inside a work of fiction. So hide the pen for 50 years inside a timeskip in the work of fiction, one of those bits where years of action are replaced with (say) a row of three asterisks on a page. Maybe the next lines are "But how on earth, said George, were you able to keep it safe for all that time? -- I really don't know, replied Gareth, maybe I was just really lucky."
  41. Apparently I'm some sort of merchant, since I'm going to sell this thing to Einstein in 50 years. Let's suppose I have an international trading business, much of which is made up of writing implements. Put this one in a batch of pens sent to a warehouse abroad. Make sure I move all my stock around from time to time, for camouflage. Keep it sailing around the world and take care that that batch is never actually sold.
  42. I mentioned earlier that I was going to become a hunter. Ensure that some of the things I hunt, and keep the remains of around as exhibits, are birds -- pheasants, peacocks and the like. And let's say this is a quill pen. Incorporate it into the plumage of one of the birds stuffed and mounted on my wall.
  43. Bribe someone at, say, the British Museum to place it inside a rarely-moved exhibit. Have them assassinated a little later just in case the forces of evil get to them. (Just as well I'm not evil, eh?) We'll need a bit more bribery in fifty years' time.
  44. Earlier I proposed implanting the pen somehow into the body of a very long-lived animal. Instead, implant it somehow into the body of my beloved pet cat. It's likely that this will impair the cat's health and it will tragically die; if not, cats don't live all that long even when their health is good. When it dies I will of course be heartbroken, bury the cat somewhere, perhaps in my garden, and visit the grave regularly. And fifty years later I will dig it up and retrieve the pen.
  45. Sail to a remote island (preferably one of a large archipelago for the usual "chaff" reasons), and bury the pen there. Bring no other crew, or have 'em all killed if that's impossible. (Again, it's just as well it's the other guys who are the forces of evil.) Remember, but do not write down, which island and where I buried it.
  46. Simply pretend to have lost the pen. Maybe write an anguished newspaper article about how I had this extraordinary revelation about how this ordinary object might transform the world's intellectual history, and then I stupidly left it with a servant who threw it away, or something of the sort. With a bit of luck, the forces of evil will believe the story and stop searching. (The pen itself is sitting in a drawer or something.)
  47. Seek out the forces of evil, and once I locate at least one of their number arrange to meet them and pretend to be naive and admiring and to think that in him or her I have found a true friend. Drop hints from time to time that I have a very important object that I need to find a safe place for. Eventually, explain that it's a pen with a mysterious destiny, that it's essential it remain safe for 50 years, that I am terrified that Someone is trying to get hold of it and disrupt that destiny, and please, you're the best and most trustworthy person I know, could I possibly impose on you by giving it to you and begging you to keep it safe for me? Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you. ... Of course what I give them is a fake. Again, the goal is to stop them bothering to search for the real pen, which is sitting in my desk.
  48. Maintain a large pile of rotting manure in my garden, keeping it well supplied at all times. Good for the soil, you know. Somewhere in its depths there is a very well sealed box containing the pen. I should have enough skill with a shovel to avoid accidentally planting the pen.
  49. (This one requires quite a lot of money.) Hire several teams of mercenaries to guard sealed boxes for me in various out-of-the-way places. Visit each every few months to keep up morale. One of the boxes does contain the pen. The others contain a deadly poison which will hopefully kill any of the forces of evil who are foolish enough to storm one of my outposts and retrieve the box. Given enough such outposts, it is much more likely that they give up after a couple of tragic deaths than that they find the actual pen.
  50. Write down a lengthy list of increasingly ridiculous ways to try to hide such an object, and publish it somewhere where the forces of evil will easily be able to see it. Then do something else. (For obvious reasons I shall not say what.)
Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 ways to escape a locked room · 2020-10-14T00:25:43.605Z · LW · GW

Glad you liked it. My own favourite was #20, because it's a little out-of-the-box, exploits something specific in the given scenario, and references an old story I like.

Comment by gjm on The Darwin Game · 2020-10-11T00:13:56.197Z · LW · GW

The first line says "Entries must be submitted on October 18, 2020, or earlier."

Then a bit later you say "I will run my own version of the game on October 16, 2020."

Will you be making your time-travel technology available to contestants' bots, and if so what is the API they should use?

Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 ways to escape a locked room · 2020-10-08T23:07:16.129Z · LW · GW
  1. Pick the lock. (Needs there to be some bit of my phone that's suitable to use as a lockpick. Seems possible.)
  2. Break down the door.
  3. Break a window. (Nothing in the challenge says no windows. If the room is high up, I may need to make makeshift ropes out of my clothes.)
  4. Break through the walls. (Maybe they're made of balsa wood.)
  5. Dig out. (Maybe the floor is bare earth. Maybe I can use the phone to help dig.)
  6. Use phone GPS to determine where I am. Contact emergency services.
  7. Or contact friends who can come and break me out quietly. (Obviously I could split this up according to whether they pick the lock, break down the door, come in through a window, etc., but that feels a bit cheaty.)
  8. Use phone to hack into wifi network and operate the electronic lock I've just decided is on the door.
  9. Presumably there's ventilation of some sort. Escape through the ducts.
  10. Use location (from GPS) and whatever else I can find out via the internet to figure out who has imprisoned me. Offer them money to let me out.
  11. Or threaten to report them to the police if they don't let me out.
  12. Or threaten to have allies kidnap their children, etc., if they don't let me out.
  13. Hack into their network; instead of letting myself out directly, change their records to indicate that it's time to let me out.
  14. Hack into local military network and get the place bombed. Wreckage may be easier to escape from.
  15. Just as with the moon one, let quantum physics do its thing. Only works in a discouragingly small fraction of universes.
  16. Bang on the door until a guard appears. Be very, very convincing and get them to let me out.
  17. If I have "enough energy to not need food or water for 10 years", that's easily enough to punch through the door or blow a hole in the walls, and obviously I'm far from being a baseline human. So the chances are there's some way I can do one of those things. Do it.
  18. Hack into one of their computers again. I am now in their computer. Ergo, I am not in the room. Done.
  19. If my phone has enough battery power to run for 10 years without a recharge, then it too has easily enough stored energy to blow a hole in the wall. This doesn't even require me to be more than baseline human, just figure out what to short-circuit. The difficult thing will be doing it from across the room so it doesn't kill me.
  20. Bang on the door until a guard appears. Say "Hey, I have a magical mobile phone that can last 10 years without a charge. If you let me escape, I'll give it to you."
  21. Climb the walls and escape through the skylight no one said wasn't there.
  22. Write a really engaging story. (Should be possible on a phone.) Then read it. Ah, pure escapism.
  23. On my phone, call up the alternate virtual keyboard that has a full set of keys. Press its Escape key. (This fits the prompt in the post, but alas not the one in the title. I hope that's OK.)
  24. Even if I can't make my phone explode spectacularly, I can probably make it catch fire by damaging the battery. Set fire to my clothes. Hopefully the clouds of smoke produced will get someone to investigate. Sneak out when they open the door to look in.
  25. The room is locked right now. That doesn't mean it'll always be locked. Perhaps it's locked now just because of some specific short-term threat. Wait until they let me out again. (Does that count as escaping?)
  26. The most likely real-world situation in which I am locked up but still get to keep a phone is where I'm thought to be dangerously insane. I am not, as it happens, dangerously insane. Bang on the door until I attract some attention, and tell Them this. (Merely telling them won't work, but maybe there are means by which They can be convinced.)
  27. Fortunately, the shirt I'm wearing is woven from stiff wire suitable for use as a lockpick. Extract some of it and use that to pick the lock. (Confession: I am not in fact wearing such a shirt. But if I were female, I might well be wearing an underwired bra.)
  28. Another possible situation in which I'm locked up: I've been found guilty of a crime. I definitely haven't done anything that would get me locked up for as long as ten years. Wait until my sentence is over. (Does that count as escaping?)
  29. Use my phone to write a computer program. Make it include something like printf("%d%%\n", (int)(100*f));. I have just escaped that third percent sign. (This is another one that works for the prompt itself but not the title.)
  30. Teleport. (We're getting to the point at which I start actually breaking the laws of physics, giving answers that feel too close to being minor variations on one another, etc. It feels as if most of the kinda-plausible options have been taken now.)
  31. Make myself very small, Alice-in-Wonderland-style, and climb out under the door or through a keyhole.
  32. Make myself very large, Alice-style, until the expansion of my body bursts me out of the room.
  33. Use the phone to implement a superintelligent AI, and follow its advice for getting out.
  34. Hack into their network again and make it think everything in the building is on fire. If They wanted to kill me, They'd have done it, so perhaps they'll let me out of my cell and maybe I can turn that into outright escape.
  35. Via the phone, get into electronic communication with the people who have locked me up. Don't tell them it's me. Persuade them somehow that whatever criminal enterprise they're engaged in is immoral or unwise, so that they give up and (inter alia) let me out.
  36. Once again, find out who they are, and post details of what they're doing everywhere on the internet, in the hope of getting an angry mob to storm the place. The mob presumably won't care specifically about me but they might let me out anyway.
  37. Inform the local or national authorities that I have body modifications that let me survive 10 years without food and a mobile phone that can run for 10 years without charging, and that I've been imprisoned here. The military will be getting me out in five minutes flat so that they can use these magical things for war.
  38. Pray.
  39. This whole scenario is, of course, imaginary. So now imagine me out of the room.
  40. Using the phone, implement a superintelligent AI and give it the task of constructing a perfect model of my mind. I'm pretty sure human minds have few enough degrees of freedom that it can do that just from talking to me and watching me for a while. Then have it run the model in a virtual world where I'm not in a locked room. Maybe many copies, so that almost all "my" anthropic measure is out of the room.
  41. The scenario is absurd enough that it probably means that this instance of me is already in a simulation. Most likely I have an original somewhere -- so I'm already out of the room. No further escape required.
  42. If not, there's probably some way (maybe using the phone?) to hack the simulation and get myself out.
  43. Hitch a lift with a passing Vogon constructor fleet.
  44. Identify the resonant frequency of the door and sing loudly at just the right pitch to make it shatter itself.
  45. Wait, beyond the 10 years I can survive. Death is the ultimate escape.
  46. My miraculous ability to survive without water presumably continues to work if I relieve myself of whatever bodily fluids I can produce. Do so, incessantly. The resulting flooding will need investigating. Slip out when they open the door to see what's going on.
  47. As the old joke has it: Divide my clothing into two halves. Put the two halves together; they make a whole. Get out through the hole. Shout until I am hoarse. Get on the horse and ride away. This option works better for users using screen-reading software.
  48. Use some bits of my clothing as makeshift ropes to tie myself up. Escape. (No one said I had to escape from the room.)
Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 ways to escape a locked room · 2020-10-08T23:02:55.281Z · LW · GW


Comment by gjm on Babble challenge: 50 ways to escape a locked room · 2020-10-08T21:39:36.626Z · LW · GW

Ooops. I meant to make this a comment rather than an answer. I guess I'll leave it as it is now. My apologies.