Have We Been Interpreting Quantum Mechanics Wrong This Whole Time? 2017-05-23T16:38:35.338Z
Building Safe A.I. - A Tutorial for Encrypted Deep Learning 2017-03-21T15:17:54.971Z
Headlines, meet sparklines: news in context 2017-02-18T16:00:46.212Z


Comment by korin43 on Comparing Covid and Tobacco · 2020-11-17T16:55:58.507Z · LW · GW

Policy Elite believes people can rationally decide to consume tobacco (hurt themselves) but not decide to social distance (hurt others)

I think this is basically the answer although I don't know if positing a secret cabal of Policy Elites adds anything. At least in the US, we've done things to prevent smokers from hurting other people (i.e. banning smoking in bars and restaurants) but there's not as much political will to prevent smokers from hurting themselves.

Comment by korin43 on Why are deaths not increasing with infections in the US? · 2020-11-02T00:16:34.263Z · LW · GW

This is from back in March, but the CDC found the median time from symptom onset to death was 18 days (5 days from symptom onset to pneumonia, 13 days from pneumonia to death). Add at least three days from infection to symptom onset and you have a three week delay.

And again, this was in March. It's possible that treatment improvements have made this delay longer.

Comment by korin43 on Covid Covid Covid Covid Covid 10/29: All We Ever Talk About · 2020-10-30T15:26:54.396Z · LW · GW

For the problem of vaccine trials ending prematurely, is it possible to setup a voluntary post-approval trial? Online registration and randomizing people to the control and treatment group seems easy enough, although you'd need to somehow get pharmacists on board if you want to do blinding (presumably pharmacists won't go along with it if they get a sealed letter asking them to inject the person in front of them with a saline solution). Unfortunately you probably need blinding, since people who know that they don't have a vaccine presumably act different than people who know they have a vaccine :\

Comment by korin43 on How much to worry about the US election unrest? · 2020-10-12T15:07:20.659Z · LW · GW

I doubt riots will get any worse after the election, and they're a local problem, not a country problem. If there's violence where you are, I expect it to be about the same afterward, but most people in the country aren't interested in violence and that won't change just because the current president stays in office for a few more years.

It doesn't matter if Trump and Pence respect the election result. If Trump loses the election, he's not the president anymore and the federal bureaucracy and military will stop listening to him. For a supposed-fascist, he's terrible at stocking the government with supporters, and the idea that the US military would support him in a coup is unbelievable.

It also doesn't matter if he wants to interfere with the election, because he can't. Presidential elections are run by state governments (and there are some strong constitutional barriers that would prevent anyone in the federal government from interfering with them).

Comment by korin43 on Why isn't JS a popular language for deep learning? · 2020-10-12T14:27:50.491Z · LW · GW

if you want to continue to train in users' browsers

Is this a thing that can be done? I would have expected it to be way too slow.

Comment by korin43 on [deleted post] 2020-10-12T14:26:03.716Z

In my experience (in the US), the nicer a house gets, the more you save buy owning the house vs renting it. For example, renting a house in my neighborhood costs $1200 per month more than my mortgage. It's obviously not an optimal financial situation, since I could sell this house and rent a run-down 2-bedroom apartment for even cheaper, but I don't want to live in a run-down 2-bedroom apartment anymore.

I suspect this is because of the disconnect between what makes rentals risky for landlords (tenants screwing things up) and the benefits of renting for a tenant (if you screw things up, there's limits to how much it's your problem). Once you reach a certain expense / necessary upkeep to remain nice-looking level, the only way to make it work is to either have insanely high rent so the landlord can afford to fix the place up if a rental goes bad, or to make the landlord and tenant the same person so their desire to not-screw-it-up is aligned.

Although for the record, at least in the US, high home ownership rates are a sign of a problem with society. Government planners think everyone should own their house whether they want to or not, so renters have to pay additional taxes which are used to subsidize home owners. The crossover point would presumably be different if our tax system was fair.

Comment by korin43 on Why isn't JS a popular language for deep learning? · 2020-10-08T20:57:29.288Z · LW · GW

One other thing to consider is that the language you do your data science work in doesn't have to be the same one you deploy your code to in production. At one point, the company I work at did data science work in R and Python and then compiled models to PFA which allows us to run the same model in various other languages. I'm not sure how popular this is, but I suspect you can load TensorFlow models into other languages relatively easily.

Comment by korin43 on Efficacy of Vitamin D in helping with COVID · 2020-09-08T14:18:20.209Z · LW · GW

Some of the results are reported in really confusing ways:

A study in Indonesia found that out of the patients that died from COVID-19, 98.9% of them were deficient in vitamin D, while only 4% of the patients with sufficient vitamin D died.

These two numbers don't add up to 100%, which indicates immediately that something sketchy is going on. I think what this is describing is two different measurements:

  • Of patients who died, what percentage had vitamin D deficiency? (98.9% deficient, 1.1% sufficient)
  • Of patients who had deficiency or sufficiency, how many died? (4% of sufficient died, [unknown]% of deficient died)

This doesn't change the results in this case, but it's needlessly confusing to report an apples-and-oranges comparison when you could compare apples to apples.

A study of patients in New Orleans found that 84.6% of the COVID-19 patients in the ICU were deficient in Vitamin D while only 4% of the patients in the ICU had sufficient levels of Vitamin D.

Same thing here except they seem to be reporting the same measurement. What category are the remaining 11% in? Or is this reporting two different categories (COVID-19 patients in ICU vs all patients in ICU)?

Comment by korin43 on Design 3: Intentionality · 2020-09-07T23:34:24.760Z · LW · GW

Standard Notes had some annoyances (sync not working, license issues, too-strict page styles), so I switched to Notion. It also gave me a few more features:

  • File attachments
  • Page hierarchy
  • Web interface if I need it
  • Ability to share page links

Apparently I've been doing this consistently since I posted the original comment. My usual method is to write up a todo list and then add comments as a bulleted list under items and sometimes link to additional pages. At the start of each day, I copy the previous day's journal entry, delete anything that's no longer relevant, and then add anything new that comes up.

The major ways it's been useful are:

  • When people ask me questions about things I don't remember, I can look them up (if it was recent enough)
  • At the start of the day, I can quickly refresh myself on what I did and what I need to do (which makes it easier to get started)
  • It's useful as a reference during standups

I think there are still things I could do better:

  • I don't do enough retrospectives. A daily/weekly/monthly/yearly review and summary would be useful partially as an index to find things, something I could reference for performance reviews or resume material, and as just a feel-good "look at all the stuff I did".
  • Right now this is the majority of my work-related notes and it would probably be good if I had subject-based pages and not just date-based pages.

Maybe I'll try adding in more retrospective/summary stuff and see how that goes.

Comment by korin43 on nostalgebraist: Recursive Goodhart's Law · 2020-08-26T15:08:12.600Z · LW · GW

The author seems to be skipping a step in their argument. I thought Goodhart's Law was about how it's hard to specify a measurable target which exactly matches your true goal, not that true goals don't exist.

For example, if I wanted to donate to a COVID-19 charity, I might pick one with the measurable goal of reducing the official case numbers.. and they could spend all of their money bribing people to not report cases or make testing harder. Or if they're an AI, they could hit this goal perfectly by killing all humans. But just because this goal (and probably all easily measurable goals) are Goodhartable doesn't mean all possible goals are. The thing I actually want is still well defined (I want actual COVID-19 cases to decrease and I want the method to pass a filter defined by my brain), it's just that the real fundamental thing I want is impossible to measure.

Comment by korin43 on What am I missing? (quantum physics) · 2020-08-21T20:50:06.764Z · LW · GW

I feel like this is missing something. How do we know they have both spins before we measure them and that they haven't "decided" their spin beforehand?

Comment by korin43 on Does crime explain the exceptional US incarceration rate? · 2020-08-16T16:35:55.045Z · LW · GW

I think your argument is interesting, but doesn't make sense in the context of this article. The author is using homicide as their proxy for crime, and homicide is the prototypical example of something which is always a crime (although there's some variation in who can get away with it and what the punishment is).

(Also while it's true that homicide was historically not punished by prison very often, your second paragraph dances around the fact that that's because the punishment was worse - death)

Comment by korin43 on Repeat Until Broke · 2020-08-13T15:30:42.842Z · LW · GW

This reminds me of the Mad Fientist's rules, although I think he uses a 90/10 split and rebalances by buying and never selling.

Comment by korin43 on Effect of Numpy · 2020-08-10T15:14:35.509Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure if it's easier than a full rewrite, but another option is to write a C Python module to do the slow piece (maybe write a function to do the metadata processing in C?):

Comment by korin43 on Signs of the Times · 2020-08-05T20:07:27.548Z · LW · GW

That's a good point. I think I'm more interested in your meta-point about science in general anyway, but I think the problem is that at a first glance, your supporting arguments seem to be wrong. Given that Dr Bouman worked on one of several teams trying to avoid exactly the problem you're talking about by using multiple different methods, and her CHIRP algorithm was created specifically to avoid the biases that CLEAN introduces, your meta argument doesn't work unless you go deeper and make a stronger argument that CHIRP is biased or broken in the way you're claiming.

Comment by korin43 on Property as Coordination Minimization · 2020-08-04T23:03:08.149Z · LW · GW

Rather than having to petition the commune for a day’s use of a red shirt, I can simply decide to wear my red shirt today. I can make solid plans around decisions that I’m the only major input to. This will sometimes lead to socially suboptimal decisions if coordination were free--maybe I look really bad in red, and a wise commune would give me blue instead--but given that coordination is not free, this is often our best available option.

It's also worth pointing out also that coordination isn't always desirable. If the average member of the commune thinks the best way to deal with a disease is to direct resources at empty passenger airlines and military helicopters, but you think spending time and resources developing vaccines is more important, you can use your own property to develop them instead of trying to get permission.

I think the general case of this is that private property lets you do things that the government* doesn't think are worth it, at the expense of not being able to direct as many resources as the things the government thinks are most important.

* I'm not sure of the right term to use here but government seems like the best word for it

Comment by korin43 on Signs of the Times · 2020-08-04T21:12:39.142Z · LW · GW

I would add that an article showing problems with either CLEAN or CHIRP would be interesting (especially if you can demonstrate them by actually running the algorithm, or point at other people's results doing that), but an article about both at the same time is needlessly complex.

Comment by korin43 on Signs of the Times · 2020-08-04T19:50:39.000Z · LW · GW

It looks like gjm already explained how you're giving a misleading account of what these algorithms do and how Dr. Bauman used them in a comment 18 days ago:

The "weirdness" term in the CHIRP algorithm is a so-called "patch prior", which means that you get it by computing individual weirdness measures for little patches of the image, and you do that over lots of patches that cover the image, and add up the results. (This is what she's trying to get at with the business about random image fragments.) The patches used by CHIRP are only 8x8 pixels, which means they can't encode very much in the way of prejudices about the structure of a black hole.


For CHIRP, they have a way of building a patch prior from a large database of images, which amounts to learning what tiny bits of those images tend to look like, so that the algorithm will tend to produce output whose tiny pieces look like tiny pieces of those images. You might worry that this would also tend to produce output that looks like those images on a larger scale, somehow. That's a reasonable concern! Which is why they explicitly checked for that. (That's what is shown by the slide from the TEDx talk that I thought might be misleading you, above.) The idea is: take several very different large databases of images, use each of them to build a different patch prior, and then run the algorithm using a variety of inputs and see how different the outputs are with differently-learned patch priors. And the answer is that the outputs look almost identical whatever set of images they use to build the prior. So whatever features of those 8x8 patches the algorithm is learning, they seem to be generic enough that they can be learned equally well from synthetic black hole images, from real astronomical images, or from photos of objects here on earth.


Oh, a bonus: you remember I said that one extreme is where the "weirdness" term is zero, so it definitely doesn't import any problematic assumptions about the nature of the data? Well, if you look at the CalTech talk at around 38:00 you'll see that Bouman actually shows you what you get when you do almost exactly that. (It's not quite a weirdness term of zero; they impose two constraints, first that the amount of emission in each place is non-negative, and second a "field-of-view constraint" which I assume means that they're only interested in radio waves coming from the region of space they were actually trying to measure. ... And it still looks pretty decent and produces output with much the same form as the published image.


Bouman says (CalTech, 16:00) “the CLEAN algorithm is guided a lot by the user.” Yes, and she is pointing out that this is an unfortunate feature of the ("self-calibrating") CLEAN algorithm, and a way in which her algorithm is better. (Also, if you listen at about 35:00, you'll find that they actually developed a way to make CLEAN not need human guidance.)

Comment by korin43 on Signs of the Times · 2020-08-04T16:17:40.026Z · LW · GW

I'm assuming it wasn't your goal, but this feels like too much of a personal attack on a particular scientist.

As far as I can tell, Dr. Bouman is just one of many users of the CLEAN algorithm, which Wikipedia says was invented in 1974.

The algorithm she was apparently instrumental in creating is CHIRP, which Wikipedia says is useful exactly because it doesn't require the user-input that you're complaining about:

While the BSMEM and SQUEEZE algorithms may perform better with hand-tuned parameters, tests show CHIRP can do better with less user expertise.

Your points about how noisy this data is and the limitations of the algorithms used to construct these images are really interesting, but the narrative of this article puts too much blame for the problems in astrophysics on a single scientist.

Comment by korin43 on The Era Of Unlimited Everything: Unlimited Materials & Unlimited Money · 2020-08-03T19:45:47.735Z · LW · GW

I'd like to object to credit being described as unlimited money. Credit doesn't exactly always the amount of money you have. The main thing it does is it lets you send money back in time.

For productive capital, this might be close enough to unlimited money. If you have an investment with a 10x expected value and can prove it sufficiently to banks or investors, you can borrow as much money as you need to do it and by the time you need to send 1/10th of it back in time to close the loop you'll still have more money available than you would have in the timeline where credit wasn't invented. Examples of this are situations like "borrow money -> buy tractor -> grow a bigger/better crop -> sell bigger crop -> pay back money used to buy tractor".

That doesn't apply to consumer credit though. If you bring $1000 from the future back in time to buy a couch, you haven't actually increased the amount of money available to all versions of you, you've just transferred it from future-you to present-you (and in-practice, reduced the amount of money available since a few hundred dollars are guaranteed to fall out of your time machine on the way).

To be clear, unlimited capital is a huge deal, but you specifically mention consumer credit and give several examples of consumer goods. I think the two categories should be treated very differently.

Comment by korin43 on Why isn't there a LessWrong App? Is a "blog-app" sustainable/useful for a community? · 2020-08-03T16:30:46.495Z · LW · GW

None of this actually matters in this kind of website/app though. Displaying text boxes doesn't require very much code. The performance aspects will mostly involve memory usage, rendering speed, and efficient algorithms.

Comment by korin43 on Selling real estate: should you overprice or underprice? · 2020-07-20T17:51:22.217Z · LW · GW

As someone who just sold a house and is currently trying to buy one, I found this pretty interesting. We've lost two bidding wars where houses listed ~$5k under what they're worth sold for (my opinion) ~$10k over what they're worth. We're also considering making an offer at $10k under list price for a house that's probably listed $5k over what it's worth and has been on the market for a comparative eternity.

Regarding the Stanford study:

We find no evidence that the use of a broker leads to higher average selling prices, or that it significantly alters average initial asking prices. However, those who use brokers sell their houses more quickly.

This makes sense, because unless sellers are systematically underpricing houses (the opposite of the direction I'd expect), they don't actually control the sale price, and the realtor on the sellers' side is there to help the seller find the market price faster (which they appear to do).

Some other confounders with realtors selling their own houses are:

  • They probably have more expensive houses than the average (since they have high incomes)
  • I suspect they're more likely to have house features that are underappreciated by (most of) the market, like well-maintained roofs

If you combine expensive houses with hard to market features, you get houses that sell for more but sell slower. The more-expensive-house hypothesis seems like something you could control for, but it would be hard to control for the second without extremely detailed (sometimes subjective) information about the houses.

Comment by korin43 on Limits of Current US Prediction Markets (PredictIt Case Study) · 2020-07-19T17:26:58.053Z · LW · GW

Can you clarify how this is possible when the article claims you can only make $100-200 per bet even if you have perfect certainty? Do you just make tons of max value bets? I'm not sure how this site works except for what's described in the article.

Comment by korin43 on Limits of Current US Prediction Markets (PredictIt Case Study) · 2020-07-14T16:03:38.038Z · LW · GW

I think one way of putting this is, given that a successful prediction on PredictIt only pays for a few hours of work and the 538 team presumably has at least some full-time people, the 538 team has probably spent more money investigating these questions than the entire PredictIt market combined.

(However, the incentives are different - a PredictIt player has an incentive to be right but 538's incentive is to tell a story that people who like reading about political statistics will find plausible and interesting)

Comment by korin43 on Cost/Benefit analysis of School Closures in the US · 2020-07-12T18:55:03.488Z · LW · GW

I don't think twin studies entirely answer this since genetics isn't everything. I've known several genetically-identical twins and none of them had identical personalities.

Comment by korin43 on Cost/Benefit analysis of School Closures in the US · 2020-07-11T22:02:45.702Z · LW · GW

The thing I wonder about these studies is the correlation vs causation question. Is it the case that people who do more schooling make more money and live longer, or do people who are always going to make more money and live longer more likely to stay in school?

Comment by korin43 on Survival in the immoral maze of college · 2020-07-09T16:34:09.798Z · LW · GW

I read this as advice that you should half-ass school since the only goal is to collect credentials. You don't specify the field, but I think this advice is counter-productive for people getting computer science degrees.

My CS program had a lot of classes that prepared me for the wrong careers (network technician in 1990, AI researcher in 1980, person who writes philosophy papers about databases, etc.), but the majority of the CS-track classes were directly applicable to my job right after school. This was largely just the long, slow process of learning how to program at all, how to interface with the external world and other people's code, and the long list of performance data that you need to memorize if you want to be competant. Even some classes that I thought were useless, like linear algebra ("I don't plan to write game engines!") ended up being useful.

Within the useful classes, doing more than the bare minimum on projects made a very big difference, and the people who obsessively improved their trivial programming projects became the same people who found it easy to get an internship, and then eventually the people who skipped the "Junior Engineer" job title and jumped directly into "real programmer jobs".

I suspect CS degrees are overly padded and could probably be packed into two years or less with a better focus on the careers people actually want or can get. Despite that, I think your advice to half-ass your way through school and not try to over-achieve is bad advice, at least in the context of CS. Most of the classes are useful, and it's extremely obvious which ones aren't. Half-ass the IT classes if you don't plan to go into IT, but don't half-ass the relevant learning-to-program classes.

Comment by korin43 on PSA: Cars don't have 'blindspots' · 2020-07-02T19:04:13.077Z · LW · GW

You can get wide-angle mirrors to stick on your side mirrors in those cases. I was looking into buying those when I discovered the wide-angle technique, which I tried instead.

I adjust my mirrors they way you do (so they show the "blind spot"), but I also have the stick on mirrors which make the view even better. They're also helpful if the back of my car is full and I need to use the side-mirrors-pointing-backwards method.

I'm completely baffled by the fact that wide-angle mirrors aren't standard features since the stick-on versions cost $2 and I suspect mass-manufactured, it wouldn't be particularly expensive to add a non-stick-on version at production time.

Comment by korin43 on What are objects that have made your life better? · 2020-06-29T16:50:17.959Z · LW · GW

Yeah my experience is that mattress comfort is mostly uncorrelated with price (which is unsurprising when you realize most of the expense in mattress production is advertising; they pretty much all cost the same amount to make).

I'd recommend for most people to go to a mattress store and try all of them since comfort is pretty much entirely about what style of mattress you want (springs / bouncy foam / memory foam, hard / medium / soft) and how that interacts with your pillows.

Comment by korin43 on What are objects that have made your life better? · 2020-06-29T16:42:31.738Z · LW · GW

Also be aware that these can sometimes be substantially cheaper on ebay if you're ok with used. I got Bose Quietcomfort 35's (retail for $300) for $120 used.

Comment by korin43 on What are objects that have made your life better? · 2020-06-29T16:32:10.201Z · LW · GW

I have three of the things you mention and would immediately buy them again if necessary:

  • A sleep mask (I've actually bought several of these because I lost them). Mine is the "Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask" since I sleep on my sides sometimes and find the flat kind more comfortable.

  • Adjustable dumbbells. I have the "Ironmaster 45 lb Quick-Lock Adjustable Dumbbell System", which get points of durability, but I actually wish I had bought the Bowflex ones since they can be adjusted much more easily.

  • Bose Quietcomfort headphones. I have the bluetooth version and actually really like it, since I only need to recharge them every few days and they're nicer to use when I'm walking around. Note that you can sometimes get these for massive discounts on ebay. I bought my Bose Quietcomfort 35's for $120.

Comment by korin43 on What gripes do you have with Mustachianism? · 2020-06-12T00:50:43.519Z · LW · GW

I think Mr. Money Mustache is overly optimistic about how easy the path he proposes is. He retired in 7 years on two 6-figure salaries and a bull market. My stocks have been doing ok, but nearly even close to as well as his did in the years before. I think his advice is still good for people without two six-figure salaries, but the early retirement idea becomes less realistic the lower the income you're working with (but it's still not pointless, since having savings is still hugely helpful for reducing stress and creating options).

I'm also not sure if he's clear enough about how hard it is to find agreement between two partners on this. I think delaying gratification to buy freedom is a good choice, but a lot of people disagree, even after reading about Mr. Money Mustache.

Even for people who want to save money, some things worth having in life really are expensive, like living near friends. I suspect the mustachian path is much longer if you live in San Francisco, but it may be worth working significantly longer to live near your community.

Comment by korin43 on What past highly-upvoted posts are overrated today? · 2020-06-09T21:55:49.721Z · LW · GW

I downvoted this because it's encouraging negativity with no benefit as far as I can tell. A list of underrated posts is theoretically useful because people could follow the links and read them, but what would you do with a list of overrated posts?

Comment by korin43 on What to draw from Macintyre et al 2015? · 2020-04-06T15:43:28.964Z · LW · GW

Unfortunately that study doesn't cover the question we want answered:

The control arm was ‘standard practice’, which comprised mask use in a high proportion of par- ticipants. As such (without a no-mask control), the finding of a much higher rate of infection in the cloth mask arm could be interpreted as harm caused by cloth masks, efficacy of medical masks, or most likely a combination of both

So the study found evidence that surgical masks are better than cloth masks, but doesn't say anything about whether cloth mask are better than nothing.

The study authors speculate that cloth masks are detrimental, but after reading through the study again, I'm pretty sure they provide absolutely no evidence for that (2 out of 1607 people in their study didn't wear masks).

Comment by korin43 on The horse-sized duck: a theory of innovation, individuals and society · 2020-04-02T19:26:44.823Z · LW · GW

It seems like Patreon is sort-of fixing this, at least when the thing people are obsessed with is interesting enough.

Comment by korin43 on COVID-19 transmission: Are we overemphasizing touching rather than breathing? · 2020-03-25T03:41:23.664Z · LW · GW

But we could supply the entire country with fabric masks in like a week, even assuming there's not already enough of them sitting around. People who sew live for this kind of thing.

Comment by korin43 on What are some articles that updated your beliefs a lot on an important topic? · 2020-03-12T00:46:29.291Z · LW · GW

Random Critical Analysis has a lot of articles about healthcare spending, and this one convinced me that US healthcare spending isn't particularly unusual given our standard of living, and it probably won't be easy to lower it (if we even wanted to):

Several other posts cover various objections and show similar graphs using different data.

I think this was the first time I had encountered this argument. The parts that make it convincing are the frequent attempts to show that a particular measure wasn't cherry picked and how the author breaks down data as much as possible instead of just showing the high level view and assuming it's enough.

Comment by korin43 on Mazes Sequence Roundup: Final Thoughts and Paths Forward · 2020-03-07T20:07:16.817Z · LW · GW

... restaurants generally aren't mazes.

Why do you believe that? Have you worked in a restaurant?

Isolated demand for rigor, but yes I have.

There are no bullshit jobs in restaurants, there's no ambiguity about what people should be doing, people's employment status usually depends much more heavily on performance than in mazes, etc.

I would suspect the reason that restaurants aren't maze-like is that most of them are small and relatively flat hierarchies. A LOT of them don't make any money, ever, either.

I agree with you here, but I think this isn't an accident. Larger companies become more maze like, but mazes can't survive competition, so companies under intense competition have to stay small to avoid becoming mazes.

Comment by korin43 on Coronavirus: Justified Practical Advice Thread · 2020-02-29T16:26:57.095Z · LW · GW

It wonder if this would be a good use case for normal face masks. Presumably they decrease the distance the virus would travel if you coughed (and also warn other people to keep their distance). Unfortunately I'm having trouble finding any research on this (everyone seems interested in masks to protect the wearer, or long term use, not short term use to prevent infecting others).

Comment by korin43 on Mazes Sequence Roundup: Final Thoughts and Paths Forward · 2020-02-06T18:00:39.103Z · LW · GW

I held off commenting more because you said this would be addressed at some point, but the early articles talked about what you call "Moloch's Puzzle" and then the later ones talk about something completely different (how maze-like organizations are created by politics / insufficient information / mismatch between organization and personal goals).

Sufficiently strong optimization pressure, whether or not it comes from competition, destroys all values not being optimized, with optimization pressure constantly increasing.

Yet all is not lost. Most of the world is better off than it has ever been and is getting better all the time. We enjoy historically outrageously wonderful bounties every day, and hold up moral standards and practical demands on many fronts that no time or place in the past could handle. How is this possible?

I maintain that the answer is right there: In a sufficiently competitive market environment, the values being optimized are the things that you're surprised still exist. Of course wonderful bounties etc. exist because that's what competitive organizations optimize for! If they optimized something that people don't want to buy, they would be out-competed by someone else.

I'm sorry to keep pushing on this, but it's important because your solution is exactly wrong (reducing competition!?). Less outside competition increases slack inside the organization, creating more space for internal politics.

You mention having worked in mazes, but given the composition of this site, I'm guessing the mazes you've worked for are highly profitable (and therefore low-competition). Companies like Google and Microsoft can afford to be mazes because of patents and copyright (legal competitive protection).

On the other hand, restaurants are so intensely competitive that you call it "super-perfect competition", but suspiciously, restaurants generally aren't mazes. Even more suspiciously, the more competitive the area, the less-maze-like the restaurants. Your response is that somehow they must actually not be as competitive as they seem, but there's a simpler answer: Mazes can't survive competition.

Comment by korin43 on Money isn't real. When you donate money to a charity, how does it actually help? · 2020-02-06T15:57:34.109Z · LW · GW

This is a big part of why I'm more optimistic about direct transfers like GiveDirectly. Standard charities act kind of like socialist economies and run into a lot of the same issues. When they're operating inside of capitalist economies, they get some advantages through price signals to indicate what products people might want, but they still run into a lot of problems with top-down planning.

Of course, it's complicated because some charities are plausibly more efficient because they use top-down planning and the planners correctly know that people should be spending their money on vaccines and not whatever else they would have bought for $0.50..

Comment by korin43 on Money isn't real. When you donate money to a charity, how does it actually help? · 2020-02-06T15:46:31.755Z · LW · GW

I guess "temporarily motivating strangers" is a reasonable description of what money does. I should have argued against calling that motivation illusory or not-real.

Comment by korin43 on Money isn't real. When you donate money to a charity, how does it actually help? · 2020-02-05T21:49:24.497Z · LW · GW

My original response was a more abstract explaination of why I think describing money as "not real" is misleading but maybe I more direct response to the article would be more useful since I think that part actually isn't core to your question.

Money is a shared illusion. Neither paper, gold, nor electron patterns can stop a mosquito or feed a hungry person directly.

I'm assuming this is for rhetorical effect, but "money is a shared illusion because you can't eat it" is a strange definition.

[...] Transfer of money is a temporary, low friction way to motivate unidentified strangers to preform an action.

So what's the mechanism by which monetary charity works?

The mechanism by which monetary charity works is by motivating unidentified strangers to perform a charitable action.

Or alternately, if you mean charities like GiveDirectly, the charity works by giving money to poor people who can then motivate unidentified strangers to perform charitable actions (like building roofs for them).

Are we "just" exploiting a comparative advantage in dollar-gathering in order to force the people on the ground to behave the way we prefer? Do we have any evidence that it can create channels of behavior that are self-sustaining?

This depends entirely on the charitable action and has nothing to do with money. How can we answer if a particular charity is helpful if we don't know what the charity does? As you say above, money works indirectly so we need to know the thing we're doing with it.

On small (and not-so-small, but not universal) margins, money is a fine way to change some behaviors. I'm wondering if there are ways to shift the equilibria at the core rather than the margin.

If you come up with a way to shift the equilibria at the core, you could pay people to implement that..

Comment by korin43 on Money isn't real. When you donate money to a charity, how does it actually help? · 2020-02-02T17:53:27.278Z · LW · GW

Calling money an illusion and describing at as a way of temporarily motivating strangers seems like a misunderstanding of what money is. It's true that money itself is just a piece of paper that we agree to treat a specific way, but the way we treat it is as a representation of real work done and real favors owed.

When I give you a dollar, I'm saying that you've done something worth (at least) a dollar for me and that I now owe you a favor worth (at least) a dollar. This works without money ("IOU's", or just keeping track of favors). The innovation of money itself is that we can get favors repaid by complete strangers without having to figure out the chain of favors every time (and in some cases, being able to get a favor repaid before it's owed).

Which is all a long way of saying that if you do something to make someone owe you a favor, you can transfer that favor to a charity instead of calling it in yourself. The piece of paper won't feed a hungry person but the favor attached to it can.

Comment by korin43 on How has the cost of clothing insulation changed since 1970 in the USA? · 2020-01-13T04:31:55.207Z · LW · GW

It seems like the cost of insulation mostly depends on improvements in the insulation manufacturing process, which seems kind of different from innovation in clothing itself.

For example, if we stopped innovating in clothing design entirely, people might focus more on reducing the production costs of fixed amounts of materials, so insulation would get cheaper by your metric, and it's unclear if that counts as innovation in clothing.

Going the other direction, if we invented a less insulating, expensive insulation with magical perfect durability, it would be a huge clothing innovation but the cost of insulation would go up by your metric.

Comment by korin43 on Imperfect Competition · 2020-01-02T16:03:20.608Z · LW · GW

I think I misread this article at first, and it's really just the same confusion as the previous article. These are all bad things which are "good" because monopoly rents are good.

I'm guessing this is based on Meditations on Moloch (5) "Capitalism":

Imagine a capitalist in a cutthroat industry. He employs workers in a sweatshop to sew garments, which he sells at minimal profit. Maybe he would like to pay his workers more, or give them nicer working conditions. But he can’t, because that would raise the price of his products and he would be outcompeted by his cheaper rivals and go bankrupt. Maybe many of his rivals are nice people who would like to pay their workers more, but unless they have some kind of ironclad guarantee that none of them are going to defect by undercutting their prices they can’t do it.

I think Scott is (unknowingly) pointing at a problem with barriers to competition on the worker side and thinking it's a problem with competition on the business side.

This becomes more clear if you turn the sweatshop into a worker-owned business. The same things Scott mentions still apply. Even though there's no bad guy to oppress them, the workers still can't raise wages because they're competing with other businesses. So why are they working at this business, and why don't they enter a different field? In the real world, the answer is that there are a lot of barriers in the way (imperfect competition), but if we're assuming perfect competition, then they should be able to switch to any other business with no effort (or they could produce their own food, shelter and luxuries), which implies that there is no better business to be in.

The problem in this example is that the entire world is a dystopia where no one produces anything more valuable than factory clothes. With monopoly rents, our workers could potentially make themselves better off than other workers in the same world, but it's a zero-sum game and it's definitely not obvious that that would be better.

Note: Our world was a dystopia similar to this once, although without perfect competition. We didn't get out of it by reducing competition (we're more capitalist now than we were then), but by improving efficiency. The thing left out of money-centric examples is the actual stuff being produced, and we produce way more stuff now than we did at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Comment by korin43 on An Emergency Fund for Effective Altruists · 2019-12-31T19:11:00.585Z · LW · GW

This sounds a lot like insurance, and effective altruists could indeed insure themselves against a myriad of risks. Unfortunately, this introduces the overhead of an insurance company. (When asking for a ballpark estimate at the insurer I interned at, I was told that at most one-third of all premium money is put back into payment of legitimate claims.) Besides, coverage will never be 100%, an insurer will reject claims whenever possible, and insurance requires monthly payment, which requires stable income.

The overhead of the insurance company isn't there for fun, it's because if you don't have that overhead, the insurance becomes more expensive. If you decide checking claims is too expensive, so instead you'll just not ever reject claims, I assure you you're not going to save money. To compare how much money you'd save by (effectively) starting your own insurance company, you need to look at profits, and insurance companies are not particularly profitable.

What are insurance sector companies usual profit margins? The insurance industry's net margin in 2017 ranged between 3 and 10.5%. Life insurance had the widest range between quarters, from 3% to 9.6%; property and casualty insurance were at 3% to 8%; and health insurance had the narrowest range of 4% to 5.25%.

It's possible that you could still save money by starting yourself, but my priors say your version sounds cheaper because you're being overly optimistic. You could probably get someone to take your bet though by asking a company to insure against people asking for their money back, with a clause that if payouts ever exceed x% of payments they can stop paying claims (similar to what would happen if your fund ran out of money).

Comment by korin43 on Imperfect Competition · 2019-12-31T18:13:30.275Z · LW · GW

It's really confusing that you wrote a big list of bad things and I think your argument is that these are good? Somehow it would be bad if people could buy individual foods regardless of distance and knew the exact contents of them and their nutritional value? It would be bad if multiple car manufacturers made similar cars and sold them in straightforward ways?

(And the restaurant example is talking about something completely different than market competitition)

I think this series is fundamentally flawed due the things I mention in my comment on your previous post (short version: you're using the world "value" to mean something like "monopoly rents" and then getting confused that competition is destroying monopoly rents but good things still exist). If perfect competition causes farmers to produce and sell food for the price that it would cost their buyers to produce and sell food, then food still gets produced and food is still traded with people who would rather produce something else. We just have less income/effort/work inequality.

Comment by korin43 on Perfect Competition · 2019-12-31T17:54:44.612Z · LW · GW

This has been mentioned in other comments, but I'm concerned that the author is missing the problem. The misuse of the term "value" is not a minor thing, and in fact invalidated the entire article (the article argues that perfect competition is bad but for various reasons it doesn't exist; this is completely wrong, perfect competition is good and would be better than the status quo). You're right that economists sometimes use value in a specific way and your usage would be valid in that context, but that's not how you're using the word in this article. I think the point where this article goes from confusing to explicitly wrong is here:

No matter how cheap prices of goods and quantities available might get, if you have zero surplus of any kind to spend on them, it doesn’t do you any good.

Before this you were very specific to use economic terms, but here you're suddenly using "surplus" to mean "everything of value". This equivocation is all over the post but becomes unmistakable here.

I think a big part of the problem is focusing on weird industries like VC funded redistribution schemes like Uber instead of real businesses. Look at farms, manufacturing, etc. - businesses that are trying to make a profit.

If I open the world's first apple orchard in a world of orange orchards, I can charge monopoly prices, earning a surplus on my sales, and use that money to buy more stuff than people who grow oranges. If suddenly the seeds go out and anyone could grow apples, in this articles terms, we would suddenly have closer-to-perfect competition and Moloch would destroy all "value".. leading to more apples being produced, more affordable food variety, and a decrease in work/income inequality.

We don't need to explain how competition isn't perfect and actually things are fine because roving barbarians burn down random orchards every year. Periodically destroying orchards is just bad and producing things more fairly is good.

I'm guessing the counter-point would be that in high-capital businesses like manufacturing, perfect competition destroys the economic surplus you need to build or maintain factories, but this is misusing terms in a different way. The cost of the factory isn't surplus and if your competitors are selling below cost, the problem is irrational competitors, not the fact that there's competition.

Comment by korin43 on The Towel Census: A Methodology for Identifying Orphaned Objects in Your Home · 2019-12-22T14:39:58.239Z · LW · GW

If you're only doing this every few months, wouldn't it be easier to just wash all of them?