Posts

One night, without sleep 2018-08-16T17:50:06.036Z
Anthropics and a cosmic immune system 2013-07-28T09:07:19.427Z
Living in the shadow of superintelligence 2013-06-24T12:06:18.614Z
The ongoing transformation of quantum field theory 2012-12-29T09:45:55.580Z
Call for a Friendly AI channel on freenode 2012-12-10T23:27:08.618Z
FAI, FIA, and singularity politics 2012-11-08T17:11:10.674Z
Ambitious utilitarians must concern themselves with death 2012-10-25T10:41:41.269Z
Thinking soberly about the context and consequences of Friendly AI 2012-10-16T04:33:52.859Z
Debugging the Quantum Physics Sequence 2012-09-05T15:55:53.054Z
Friendly AI and the limits of computational epistemology 2012-08-08T13:16:27.269Z
Two books by Celia Green 2012-07-13T08:43:11.468Z
Extrapolating values without outsourcing 2012-04-27T06:39:20.840Z
A singularity scenario 2012-03-17T12:47:17.808Z
Is causal decision theory plus self-modification enough? 2012-03-10T08:04:10.891Z
One last roll of the dice 2012-02-03T01:59:56.996Z
State your physical account of experienced color 2012-02-01T07:00:39.913Z
Does functionalism imply dualism? 2012-01-31T03:43:51.973Z
Personal research update 2012-01-29T09:32:30.423Z
Utopian hope versus reality 2012-01-11T12:55:45.959Z
On Leverage Research's plan for an optimal world 2012-01-10T09:49:40.086Z
Problems of the Deutsch-Wallace version of Many Worlds 2011-12-16T06:55:55.479Z
A case study in fooling oneself 2011-12-15T05:25:52.981Z
What a practical plan for Friendly AI looks like 2011-08-20T09:50:23.686Z
Rationality, Singularity, Method, and the Mainstream 2011-03-22T12:06:16.404Z
Who are these spammers? 2011-01-20T09:18:10.037Z
Let's make a deal 2010-09-23T00:59:43.666Z
Positioning oneself to make a difference 2010-08-18T23:54:38.901Z
Consciousness 2010-01-08T12:18:39.776Z
How to think like a quantum monadologist 2009-10-15T09:37:33.643Z
How to get that Friendly Singularity: a minority view 2009-10-10T10:56:46.960Z
Why Many-Worlds Is Not The Rationally Favored Interpretation 2009-09-29T05:22:48.366Z

Comments

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Agency in Conway’s Game of Life · 2021-05-13T09:58:22.019Z · LW · GW

Seems like there's a difference between viability of AI, and ability of AI to shape a randomized environment. To have AI, you just need stable circuits, but to have an AI that can shape, you need a physics that allows observation and manipulation... It's remarkable that googling "thermodynamics of the game of life" turns up zero results. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Biological Holism: A New Paradigm? · 2021-05-10T10:53:47.025Z · LW · GW

The Santa Fe Institute was founded in 1984, the first Macy conferences were in the 1940s, Smuts wrote Holism and Evolution in 1926, Aristotle had three types of soul... what's new about this? 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021 · 2021-05-06T06:21:42.367Z · LW · GW

Was there a recent post, where some expert claimed that deep learning can't deal with ... some kind of discreteness? 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on What weird beliefs do you have? · 2021-05-04T08:26:02.681Z · LW · GW

That's certainly a weird combination, but I doubt it's the right way to combine those ingredients... 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on The AI Timelines Scam · 2021-05-04T08:18:43.110Z · LW · GW

Can you name any of these people? I can't think of anyone who's saying, "I'm dying, so let's cure death / create AGI now". Mostly what people do, is get interested in cryonics. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken · 2021-04-23T22:53:55.858Z · LW · GW

Welcome to the study of the rise and fall of states, empires, dynasties, civilizations. Also see: Toynbee, Spengler, undoubtedly many other historians east and west. John Glubb's "Fate of Empires" even argues for a specific life expectancy of empires, 250 years. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 4/22: Crisis in India · 2021-04-22T21:01:44.704Z · LW · GW

On India

it is entirely our responsibility for not accelerating vaccine production in time to help them 

India is the world's biggest vaccine producer, and the cornerstone of the Gavi plan to supply Covid vaccines to poor countries. And when this second wave became evident, I believe they quickly started redirecting their national Covid vaccine production for domestic use. I am not sure what the exact cause of the Indian second wave is, but I don't think you can blame it on America, unless you think it was America's responsibility to foresee and preempt all problems worldwide in beating the pandemic. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Hell is wasted on the evil · 2021-04-15T11:18:31.334Z · LW · GW

A good person seeks out opportunities to do good with the desperation of a castaway in the desert seeking out water. They will find it or die trying.

Are opportunities to do good in such short supply? 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on What weird beliefs do you have? · 2021-04-15T06:02:08.870Z · LW · GW

Starting over ten years ago, there were some similar posts about an "irrationality game", starting here

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on A Brief Review of Current and Near-Future Methods of Genetic Engineering · 2021-04-11T06:29:22.842Z · LW · GW

This is not what I expected. I thought this article would be about molecular methods of directly altering the genome - CRISPR, artificial chromosomes, etc. 

But instead I only see one method mentioned, and it consists of a quasi-darwinian cycle in which lots of eggs are fertilized, allowed to divide a few times, genetically screened for desired traits, and then cells from these early-stage embryos are used to make a new generation of sperm and eggs so as to repeat the cycle. 

Darwinian evolution consists of variation followed by selection, and here the engine of variation is the all-natural process of chromosomal recombination that occurs during sexual reproduction. In nature, the fertilized egg then grows into an organism, and the selective filter is how well it survives and reproduces out in the world. But in the described process of accelerated artificial selection, the fertilized eggs don't grow into organisms. Instead, they are sequenced in order to discover the individual genotypes produced, and evaluated on the basis of a guess as to how they would fare, if they did grow into an organism. 

To put it another way, natural selection is a cycle of genotypes that grow into phenotypes that mate and create new genotypes, but this accelerated artificial selection uses virtual phenotypes obtained by combining sequence information with GWAS-based interpretation. 

I'll admit that's ingenious. And it would be interesting to know if an analogous method has ever been used successfully, on any kind of organism. 

I see two opportunities for doubt: the selection criteria, and the safety of repeated artificial fertilization/gametogenesis. Regarding the first, one may doubt GWAS on the grounds of reliability (false positives) and power (not enough variance accounted for). Regarding the second, one would like to know that this process isn't creating e.g. some cumulative epigenetic artefact. 

A few further comments: 

This article is headlined as a "review of current and near-future methods", but it really seems to be about promoting this one particular method (iterated embryo selection). There's discussion in the comments here about the history of this idea - it was mentioned in a bioethics journal in 2012, under the name "in vitro eugenics"; it was discussed by Carl Shulman at MIRI in 2009; and Gwern found a precursor dating from 1998. 

I think a genuine review would have to say more about direct genetic modification. The one instance of human genetic engineering that we know about, performed in China in 2018, of course used CRISPR. I believe this is now illegal in China (see draft item 39 here), as of last month. And CRISPR ends up modifying more than just the targeted gene. Nonetheless, genome editing will surely be part of future human genetic engineering. 

Meanwhile, iterated gametogenesis will just as surely have its own safety issues. They say there were 276 failed attempts before the successful cloning of a sheep (Dolly). Cumulative epigenetic modifications, of a kind not occurring in nature, seems an extremely likely risk. 

Speaking of epigenetics, I've just discovered the existence of another class of methods, epigenome editing... And then there's the topic of nonheritable (and possibly temporary) genetic modifications made to mature organisms. If what you care about is biological intelligence increase, somatic gene-hacking seems likely to get there before germline gene-hacking, because you don't have to wait for your first generation to grow up. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Rationalism before the Sequences · 2021-04-07T04:11:39.231Z · LW · GW

The real question is, is there a historical precursor to /r/SneerClub? Perhaps an SF zine run by someone who didn't like Korzybski and Van Vogt... 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Where can one draw the line between sentience and the state of being just a random bunch of quarks? At what point is the 'conscience' generated? · 2021-04-01T06:14:58.242Z · LW · GW

You need electrons too (so you can have atoms, and not just atomic nuclei). 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on [deleted post] 2021-03-22T05:24:18.436Z

my friend made 50M 

Is that 50 million dollars? Or is it a crypto abbreviation that means something else?

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Dark Matters · 2021-03-16T06:17:48.137Z · LW · GW

Some comments informed by Stacy McGaugh's blog (you may know most of this already):  

The rotation curves show a very tight dependence on the amount of baryonic matter alone, something which you might expect from modified gravity sourced by baryonic matter, but not so much, from ordinary gravity sourced by a mixture of baryonic matter and dark matter. 

Lensing is a relativistic effect. The leading phenomenological theory of modified gravity here, MOND, is Modified Newtonian Dynamics, i.e. is defined for the nonrelativistic regime (since the rotation curves involve very small accelerations). So lensing predictions will depend on the specific relativistic extension of MOND. Incidentally, a very recent relativistic extension of MOND ("RelMOND") is supposed to get that third CMB peak right. 

McGaugh seems to regard the possibilities of structure formation in MOND as barely studied, at least when compared to Lambda CDM; and points out that the "21 cm anomaly" could be explained by there being no dark matter in the early universe. 

In general, McGaugh cautions that the dark matter paradigm contains numerous parameters which keep being adjusted to match the latest data; whereas in the realm of rotation curves, MOND makes successful significant predictions; but people prefer to keep tweaking Lambda CDM, rather than trying to build on MOND's successes. 

Further comments from me: 

I am agnostic about which paradigm is right - clearly they both have their merits - and a middle ground of "MOND-like DM" (e.g. Khoury's superfluid DM, postulated to have an interaction with baryonic matter that reproduces the MOND gravitational profile) or "DM-like MOND" (e.g. Bullet Cluster lensing from flux in extra metric degrees of freedom?) is also intriguing. Either way, at the galactic scale, there seems to be a relationship between amount of baryonic matter, and strength of these dark effects, that is not explained by ordinary theories of dark matter. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on I want to die in an infinite universe. How philosophy led me to the deepest heights of indifferent despair. · 2021-03-12T02:18:38.113Z · LW · GW

better explained reasoning 

That final link is my first encounter with Mario Alejandro Montano (1997-2020). It seems he could be a Mitchell Heisman for the 2020s. 

I don't believe the cosmology of reincarnation as a Boltzmann brain, etc. I think the self is grounded in substance. But I hope you complete your articulation of the opposite view. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Daniel Kokotajlo's Shortform · 2021-03-11T05:32:05.665Z · LW · GW

No nanoscale robotic system ... should be permitted to store more than a small fraction of the digital file containing the instructions to replicate itself.

Will you outlaw bacteria? 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 2/18: Vaccines Still Work · 2021-02-18T12:52:26.949Z · LW · GW

A current hypothesis that China is holding off on vaccinating anyone until it can have sufficient supply for the whole country.

According to the article, they've vaccinated 40 million already. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Cowering To Genocide: Uighur Persecution And The World’s Last Hope · 2021-02-10T20:03:32.495Z · LW · GW

I interpret the Reddit commenter to be saying that whatever the Chinese policy in Xinjiang is, it's not complete deracination. Possibly it's a mix of surveillance for the majority, and intense sinification for the minority considered most at risk ideologically. 

I do not regard the depiction of events in Xinjiang by US State Department, BBC, etc, as particularly objective or reliable. I believe the moral and factual claims made are made in service of political and geopolitical agendas. 

edit: Let me say more about this... The west has been militarily intervening in the Muslim world for over a century. For a generation we've been fighting a "war on terror", in which we kill who knows how many hundreds or thousands of Muslim civilians, outside our own borders, every year. 

These are the same societies in which elite politicians, media, and lawyers (or at least a significant faction thereof), are meanwhile shaping western public opinion towards the view that geopolitical rival China is committing genocide, the greatest sin in our holocaust-influenced political ethics. In the case of China, the alleged genocide turns out to be some combination of "cultural genocide" and a decrease in birth rates. But we'll go on just calling it genocide, with all of that word's connotations of mass murder. 

Westerners think that Muslim governments don't join the western denunciation because of Chinese money, or anticolonial sentiment. But there's another dimension too. Many Muslim countries are preoccupied with managing their own radicals. A lot of the post-9/11 war on terror has consisted of western advisors working with Muslim governments, in complex deals whereby weapons and intelligence and other assistance are provided, in return for aligning with the western bloc in other ways. China now offers, not just an alternative model of economic development, but an alternative model of governance and regime security. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Cowering To Genocide: Uighur Persecution And The World’s Last Hope · 2021-02-10T12:06:41.939Z · LW · GW

I cannot improve on the words of redditor @TurkicWarrior: "I think they’re trying to tame the Uyghur people, break their national aspiration and be loyal to China. I don’t think they will take the Uyghur culture away, it’s impractical."

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid: Bill Gates and Vaccine Production · 2021-01-29T02:37:30.852Z · LW · GW

Vaccine production, and in particular vaccine production by Pfizer and Moderna, has languished for want of a few billion dollars

Is this actually true? Money is necessary but not sufficient. Concrete problems e.g. of industrial process have to be solved too. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on The True Face of the Enemy · 2021-01-16T12:29:31.755Z · LW · GW

Whether children should be in school is inseparable from the question of how children should live in general, and ultimately, how human life as a whole should proceed. 

For the average modern family, school is not just a place where their children go to learn, it's a place that takes care of the children during the day, while the parents work to earn money. 

This has not always been how life works. One may certainly look to the history of humanity for alternative paradigms. But in general, I think the historical alternative to compulsory schooling has not been self-directed education, it's been child labor. 

In several places, this article links to a wiki by an advocate of "educational emancipation". The wiki has some material that may, for all I know, be an important contribution to the practice of education, e.g. this page interested me. 

But when it comes to reforming the educational system, the wiki's author hopes for "a massive peaceful rebellion from school-aged children". Greta Thunberg's climate strike shows us that such a thing is conceivable. But suppose the rebellion against compulsory schooling happened somewhere, and was victorious, how would it turn out? 

Perhaps like this: Some would choose to remain in school, and in the existing educational system, and would go on to get the jobs that require grades and degrees. Some would quit school and go straight into the workforce, as in the days before compulsory schooling. A few with the means to do so, would indeed embark on self-directed education, producing a mixture of prodigies and alienated misfits. And some would drop out into a life of sex, drugs, looting, and fighting. 

The wiki's author supports basic income, and the author of this essay talks about "the capitalist beast", so it seems they're both hoping to avoid the historical either-or, whereby, if you're not in the system getting educated, you'll be staying alive "by the sweat of your brow", i.e. working in a job. 

Society can undoubtedly assume many forms that it has not yet taken; and the computer age increasingly means that humans are not even needed for cognitive labor (just as the machine age provided an alternative to human and animal labor on a material level). But if we're still talking about a world of human beings not that dissimilar to the present, then if you want to abolish (and not just reform) compulsory schooling, there are a lot of issues to address. Are you happy for a lot of young people to just skip schooling and join the workforce early? Are you dreaming that all the emancipated youth are going to be self-educating computer nerds rather than hollow-eyed street kids? At what age do you think a young person should first have the right to completely reject the tutelage of adults? 

Also, this article - in its dialogue with "the Enemy" - implies that compulsory schooling was invented for basically malevolent and exploitative reasons. But glance at the actual history of compulsory education and you will find many ways in which it was meant to make a better world. It was supposed to instill moral virtue throughout the populace, end child labor, give better opportunities to the lower social classes, help a country catch up with stronger wealthier nations. If you really want to know your "enemy", find a manifesto written by some reformer from a few centuries ago, for whom universal education was going to fix everything wrong with the world... 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Grey Goo Requires AI · 2021-01-16T02:51:37.237Z · LW · GW

Imagine an airborne "mold" that grows on every surface, and uses up all the atmospheric CO2. You'd need to be hermetically sealed away to escape it, and then the planet would freeze around you anyway. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Grey Goo Requires AI · 2021-01-15T10:46:22.610Z · LW · GW

These replicators would transform all matter on earth into copies of themselves

A replicator doesn't need the capacity to devour literally all matter (with all the chemical diversity that implies), in order to be a threat. Suppose there was a replicator that just needs CO2 and H2O. Those molecules are abundant in the atmosphere and the ocean. There would be no need for onboard AI. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America · 2021-01-06T15:56:27.989Z · LW · GW

At this point, I am not trying to show that lockdowns were an overreaction, so much as I am just trying to understand why events unfolded as they did. 

How did the idea of a national lockdown enter public health contingency plans all over the world? (the idea existed before Covid, but I think people usually envisaged it as a response to a much deadlier pandemic). What are the attributes of Covid which made people regard it as dangerous enough to warrant national lockdowns? (e.g. a lethal respiratory disease, of a kind for which no vaccines existed). What made national lockdowns the global norm? (e.g. was it because WHO advised it and many countries follow WHO recommendations, or was it more a matter of public health officials in diverse countries independently coming to the same conclusion, because it really was the appropriate response). 

So, just seeking the basic cause and effect of how the global pandemic response unfolded. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America · 2021-01-03T14:18:44.223Z · LW · GW

you still don't have evidence that lockdowns are benefitting them

I was struck by the case of a political columnist who tweeted an appeal to ordinary people, to just let their businesses fail, rather than risk orphaning their kids; while she herself went about organizing a new online business venture involving dozens of colleagues. 

Lockdowns are hardest on those who are already vulnerable, and on people who can't work from home. But digital society is run by affluent people who spend their working days in front of a computer. It makes sense that they would be much less sensitive to the drawbacks of a stay-at-home policy. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America · 2021-01-01T21:54:42.873Z · LW · GW

lockdowns are to protect the elderly 

Let's suppose we're trying to understand why almost every society on Earth engaged in unprecedented society-wide lockdowns, over a virus which is certainly highly lethal e.g. for people in their 80s, but which is mostly harmless for people in the prime of life. 

I like the theory above - that the lockdowns are to protect the elderly - because of its simplicity. If it's true, it should be possible to present an account of what happened in 2020, in which that thought and intention is central. 

But to develop that account, further nuances need to be brought out. For example, if we focus just on western countries for a moment, would the more nuanced explanation be, that it was largely about protecting the parents of the progressive managerial class? (is that what PMC stands for?) - in the sense that this is the social stratum whose sensibilities make the difference between one policy and another, in many cases. 

But then we would want to explain that countries as different as China, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa also engaged in lockdowns. Was the same logic at work in all of them? But in East Asia they also had the experience of the far more lethal 2003 SARS (and, it now occurs to me, Saudi may have had the analogous experience of MERS, to encourage swift severe lockdowns). 

With respect to global use of lockdowns, I think WHO and the G20 did a lot to encourage it, so that would be part of the chain of cause and effect... And another aspect of understanding how the year unfolded, would be to think of the public health response in each country, as something constantly in evolution, and also contested. 

So maybe my provisional explanation is that there was a convergence of practice between SARS-terrified Asia and the elites of the information-age West, and that this then became a new global norm via bodies like WHO and G-20. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials. · 2020-12-28T10:43:10.762Z · LW · GW

If you want to make the case that with a different ethos, Covid-19 mortality might have been dramatically lower, it would help to exhibit a scenario in which this happens. 

Much is being made of the fact that mRNA vaccines were first synthesized, very soon after the virus's genetic sequence became available. But this just means that a particular molecular construct (a carrier for spike protein mRNA, I guess) could quickly be synthesized. 

To go from that to mass vaccination, even if we skip trials for efficacy and safety, requires that you know enough about how the virus and the vaccine behave within the body, to have some idea of where and how to administer the vaccine to a patient. Also, there needs to be infrastructure to mass-produce the vaccine, and a way to distribute it. 

Complications known to me, in the case of Covid mRNA vaccines, are that Covid's interaction with the body and the immune system is intricate and was not immediately understood (this matters in deciding how to introduce a vaccine into the body), and that mRNA vaccines currently require ultracold refrigeration for their distribution, an infrastructure that doesn't even exist in some countries. 

Let's see a concrete counterfactual scenario for rapid deployment of a Covid mRNA vaccine in 2020, that takes into account these two factors; and then we can start to estimate how many extra lives the HCT ethos might have saved. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on 100 Tips for a Better Life · 2020-12-24T14:25:21.533Z · LW · GW

To the author of this post: I continue to plead for help. If not from you, there must be someone that you know. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials. · 2020-12-22T10:34:17.590Z · LW · GW

OK, let's talk about some of the issues that would arise in this scenario. 

Taking an mRNA vaccine means becoming temporarily transgenic. mRNA for Covid spike protein is injected into your muscle cells, they produce it, and this stimulates antibody production. 

In having trials, one is not only testing that the Covid mRNA vaccine is effective against Covid; one is also testing whether the vaccine itself has side effects. 

Are you proposing to move straight to mass vaccination, without testing for vaccine side effects? But if not, how will making the trials HCTs, save time? HCTs are only different in the way that they test efficacy against the pathogen. When it comes to testing for side effects of the vaccine itself, don't you have to wait just as long as you do, in a non-challenge trial? 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials. · 2020-12-21T13:00:28.126Z · LW · GW

I did some google-research... From wikipedia, I learned that HCTs have already been performed many times, for a variety of pathogens (I didn't know that). So it seems like they are already part of accepted practice. 

I found a reddit thread with comments from a few people who work in the medical industry, remarking e.g. that HCTs would only have come in at Phase 3 and would only have saved a little time. And a PNAS opinion piece giving what I guess is the common opinion among the bioethics establishment, that HCTs are not appropriate for Covid, and their reasons for this opinion (I have not studied their arguments; but they mention 1DaySooner). 

Whatever their merit, I note that these counterarguments do not involve pure ethical reasoning about the bare idea of HCTs, they involve technological and epidemiological details that outsiders do not know. 

This is why I'm against this call for "mass conversation". So far all I'm hearing is "if we had vaccines sooner, lives would have been saved, what if HCTs would have done this?" But it turns out that HCTs have been used in the past, and that there are alleged reasons why they wouldn't help in the specific case of Covid. 

At the very least, an HCT advocate using our recent global experience as motivation, ought to now address the specifics of how the Covid vaccines were developed, and provide some plausible detailed reasons as to why and how HCTs could have accelerated that process. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials. · 2020-12-20T10:28:22.205Z · LW · GW

I disagree with that one line, mostly - the idea that having "billions" of people "debating" an issue is a meaningful or constructive goal. 

Human challenge trials seem like a useful thing. Although maybe there's some inconvenience because the infected people need to remain quarantined throughout the trial. And maybe there are other considerations that I don't know about, intrinsic to vaccine development, that make it less useful or practical than it seems. 

Those are about the extent of my thoughts on the issue. They are not especially deep. 

I'm just saying that this vision of having everyone on Earth "debating" your favorite issue doesn't make sense. I see two things to be accomplished here: clarity about whether and how human challenge trials are appropriate, and having policy and practice reflect this. 

If there is actually still something to be discovered regarding the desirability and efficacy of HCTs, having "billions" debate it is not the way to do it. The vast majority of people on Earth know almost nothing about how the immune system works or the process of developing vaccines. They are not in a position to know any technical considerations that may affect the utility of HCTs. 

remizidae said, "I strongly disagree with this idea that only a few vaccine experts should be debating the topic. Aside from a few basic technical concepts, the basic question here is ethical. Everyone can judge ethical questions." 

I am not saying that only vaccine experts should have a say. But I am saying that you can't have this discussion without them! There may always be some detail, regarding how the real world works, that impacts the viability of HCTs, and which only experts know about. 

But OK, let's suppose that HCTs make technical sense in certain contexts. Then perhaps "the basic question here is ethical", and "everyone can judge" it. If everyone can judge this appropriately, surely it doesn't take billions of people to arrive at one of (1) yes (2) no (3) it depends? 

On the other hand, if you think you already know that HCTs are useful and important and neglected, but are held back by institutional resistance, then maybe it would help to convince a lot of other people that things should change. But in that case, I would find the language of "debate" to be disingenuous. 

I mean, suppose you stirred things up enough that billions of people were debating HCTs, and it turned out that for some reason, they're no good. You would have wasted the time of the entire human race, as well as probably permanently misleading millions of people on the issue. 

So you need to make a choice. Are you basically certain that HCTs urgently need to become acceptable? Then openly advocate them. Are you still unsure whether HCTs would actually make for a better world? Then try to figure out whether they would, before you set out to "guide the attention" of billions to this issue. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials. · 2020-12-19T15:02:49.275Z · LW · GW

"Billions of people could be having debates ... about human challenge trials." 

There's something peculiar about this way of promoting the idea. Either human challenge trials are worth it, or they are not worth it, or "it depends" (on context, on opinion). It shouldn't require billions of people to figure out something that basic. And if the answer is "it depends", then it's going to depend on medical technicalities or simply on local culture, and again, having billions debate it isn't helpful. 

Whether to have human challenge trials is ultimately a question about something that very few people are involved with, namely vaccine development methodology. To seriously address it requires knowledge of that process that few of us possess. If debates need to occur, quality matters more than quantity. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on An argument for personal identity transfer. · 2020-12-14T11:25:17.279Z · LW · GW

You assume that the conscious part of the brain consists of interacting but independent subunits, whose only property of significance is how they interact with their neighbors. 

This is not the only ontological option. For example, there is the quantum notion of entanglement. There may exist a situation in which there are nominally two entities, but the overall quantum state cannot be reduced to one entity being in one state, and the other entity in a second state. 

Consider a state of two qubits. If the overall state is |01>, that can be decomposed into |0>|1>. But a superposition like |01>+|10> cannot. 

There is a further issue of whether one ascribes reality to quantum states. In the (original, true) Copenhagen interpretation, quantum states are not real things, that role is reserved only for observables and only when they take definite values. 

However, if one's ontology says quantum states are things that exist, and if the conscious part of the brain is one big entangled state, then you can't just replace the parts independently. There may be other operations you can perform, like quantum teleportation, but what they signify or allow, in the way of identity transfer, is unclear (at least, in the absence of a definite quantum theory of consciousness). 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America · 2020-12-11T10:56:04.242Z · LW · GW

Now that western governments are scrambling to approve and deploy vaccines, it must be the beginning of the end of the pandemic in the west, and I am glad of that. But I am concerned that I don't have a coherent understanding of so much of what happened this year. 

Mainstream media reporting is a jumble of anecdotes and numbers without context, but overall their big picture is that this is a disaster and we should all obey the public health restrictions until the authorities tell us that it's over and we're safe. 

I have a sociological explanation for why this is the mainstream narrative: As the Trump/Brexit years of western populism have made clear, western mainstream media speak from a particular class standpoint - I could describe it as 'boardroom progressivism' - and the vaguely upper-middle-class stratum who are the social base for this worldview, are the social class who are least affected by the lockdowns - information-age professionals who are happy to work from home, and who can afford to do so for long periods. They can afford an approach of maximal precaution, and so the media and politicians who represent them, are all about erring on the side of caution, having lots of restrictions and keeping those restrictions for as long as it takes. 

(This explanation could be wrong; I don't belong to this class, this is just my attempt to read between the lines.) 

Meanwhile, in social media one may find the contrarians who maintain that there has been an enormous overreaction. I find this plausible, but that raises the question, what would have been a commensurate reaction; especially when one takes into account the uncertainty which existed in the early days. E.g. suppose that a public health strategy of vitamin D for the masses and 'focused protection' for the vulnerable would have been a viable and far less costly alternative to the lockdowns; what are the odds that someone could have figured it out in time? 

One of the key issues in the debate between the mainstream and the contrarians, is that most of Covid's victims have been elderly. I think we all know the argument: that tens of millions of people who are at almost no risk from Covid, are making major sacrifices to protect other people who are at the end of their lives anyway. I find it hard to think straight about this. I'm a transhumanist who would like to see aged care homes become rejuvenation centers, so in principle I'm in favor of more life for the elderly, but obviously the masterminds of contemporary public health policy are not coming from this position. The critics of the mainstream Covid policy say, flu season always kills many of the old and infirm, but we never before shut down society to prevent this from happening, so why do it now? 

There is not only a normative question here, the question of the right policy; there is also a simple question of fact: how and why did lockdowns become the default response to Covid? I could say that it caters to the alleged hegemonic social class of boardroom progressives that I mentioned, but I'm not sure I believe that's the reason... Alex Berenson has written a small book on the origin of the lockdown strategy. I haven't read it, but it sounds important for those wanting to understand how that became the standard response worldwide. 

There's a lot that I puzzle over, this is just part of it. Meanwhile, Zvi has worked hard to give us detailed numbers for America and an analysis of what they mean. At some point I'll have to re-read his entire sequence from the beginning, and see what big picture it implies. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on [deleted post] 2020-12-06T03:57:20.842Z

the description ought to be rewritten to actually resolve ... the problem... The Hard Problem of Consciousness is simply...

Is there a protocol for this sort of thing? 

I don't agree with your answer, but that's not an issue. Less Wrong can have an official position on some topic, and I can disagree with it, and that's alright. I am wondering more about this: how do you decide what the official position is, or if there even is an official position? I have the impression that even among Less Wrong's central organizers and personalities, there isn't consensus on the hard problem. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Should I do it? · 2020-11-19T10:14:29.498Z · LW · GW

What will your AGI do, once it exists?

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Spend twice as much effort every time you attempt to solve a problem · 2020-11-16T08:02:16.106Z · LW · GW

In gambling, the strategy of repeatedly "doubling down" is called a martingale (google to find previous discussions on LW), and the main criticism is that you may run out of money to bet, before chance finally turns in your favor. Analogously, your formal analysis here doesn't take into account the possibility of running out of time or energy before the desired goal is achieved. 

I also have trouble interpreting your concrete example, as an application of the proclaimed strategy. I thought the idea was, you don't know how hard it will be to do something, but you commit to doubling your effort each time you try, however many attempts are necessary. In the example, the goal is apparently to discover whether you should pursue a career in research. 

Your proposition is, rather than just jump into a three-year degree, test the waters in a strategy of escalating commitment that starts with as little as three minutes. Maybe you'll find out whether research is the life for you, with only minutes or weeks or months spent, rather than years. OK, that sounds reasonable. 

It's as if you're applying the model of escalating commitment from a different angle than usual. Usually it's interpreted as meaning: try, try harder, try harder, try HARDER, try REALLY HARD - and eventually you'll get what you want. Whereas you're saying: instead of beginning with a big commitment, start with the smallest amount of effort possible, that could conceivably help you decide if it's worth it; and then escalate from there, until you know. Probably this already had a name, but I'll call it an "acorn martingale", where "acorn" means that you start as small as possible. 

Basically, the gap between your formal argument and your concrete example, is that you never formally say, "be sure to start your martingale with as small a bet/effort as possible". And I think also implicit in your example, is that you know an upper bound on d: doing the full three-year degree should be enough to find out whether you should have done it. You don't mention the possibility that to find out whether you really like research, you might have to follow the degree with six years as a postdoc, twelve years as a professor, zillion years as a posthuman gedankenbot... which is where the classic martingale leads. 

But if you do know an upper bound on the task difficulty d, then it should be possible to formally argue that an acorn martingale is optimal, and to view your concrete scenario as an example of this. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function · 2020-11-10T14:20:40.156Z · LW · GW

I don't think that people in different inertial reference frames have to agree about how many worlds there are, indeed I don't even think people in the same inertial reference frame have to agree about how many worlds there are.

At this point I have nothing to say, because there's no coherent concept of 'world' left to debate. 

I think one version is "if the complex amplitude for me having a certain brain state approaches zero, then the probability that I will find myself experiencing having that brain state also approaches zero" 

This could become a version of 'many-minds interpretation'. But now you need to make 'mind' a rigorous concept. There has to be something exact in the ontology that corresponds to the specificity of what we see! - whether it's a whole 'world', or just an 'observer experience'. If everything other than the universal wavefunction is fuzzy and vague and a matter of convention, you no longer have a theory corresponding to observed reality. 

Why can't something be both ontologically primitive and reference frame dependent? Like velocity, to take an everyday example

The 4-velocity (considered as an invariant geometric object, rather than in terms of covariant components) is the fundamental entity. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function · 2020-11-07T13:05:27.558Z · LW · GW

The point seems so simple to me, I am having trouble expressing it... A wavefunction is the instantaneous state of a quantum system. It is extended spatially. In relativistic space-time, to talk about the instantaneous state of an extended object, you have to define simultaneity. This means choosing a particular decomposition of space-time into spacelike hypersurfaces that are treated as surfaces of simultaneity. In a relativistic universe, you cannot talk about finite time evolution of spatially extended wavefunctions without first breaking space-time into space and time. 

In particle physics a la Copenhagen, there is no ontological commitment to wavefunctions as things that exist. They are just part of a calculation. But we are told that in MWI, the universal wavefunction is real and it is a superposition of worlds. As I have just argued, you can't do what you want to do - study how this wavefunction evolves over time - without first breaking space-time into space and time, so that you have the hypersurfaces of simultaneity on which the wavefunction is defined. So it seems that belief in the wavefunction as something real, requires belief in an ontologically preferred frame, with respect to which that wavefunction's time evolution is defined. 

Is that any clearer? 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function · 2020-11-06T12:52:58.010Z · LW · GW

A wavefunction is spatially extended. Your description of MWI involves tracking how the properties of a wavefunction change over time. In relativity, that's going to require choosing a reference frame, a particular division of space-time into space and time. 

In a Copenhagen approach to, say, particle physics, that doesn't matter, because everything that is frame-dependent vanishes by the end of the calculation (as does everything that is gauge-dependent). But I don't see how you can reify wavefunctions without also having a preferred reference frame. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function · 2020-11-06T05:30:59.865Z · LW · GW

Well, it seems like the most important part of your answer comes in a subsequent comment 

"how many worlds are there" is not a question with a well-defined answer in Everett's theory

As far as I am concerned, that renders the theory unviable. We-here (as opposed to our copies in slightly divergent branches) inhabit a particular world. We definitely exist, therefore the object in the theory corresponding to our existence must also definitely exist; therefore if its existence is only a matter of degree or definition, then the theory is wrong. 

But at least you have clarified the kind of MWI that you are talking about - worlds are defined only vaguely or exactly, and cannot be counted. This is not the case in all forms of MWI, e.g. see "many interacting worlds". 

Do you have anything to say about the criticism from relativity? That in relativistic quantum field theory, wavefunctions only exist in the context of a particular frame, and so can't be ontologically fundamental?

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function · 2020-11-05T08:28:01.936Z · LW · GW

I asked

Which basis do you use in obtaining multiple worlds from a single wavefunction?

evhub replied

Any diagonal basis—the whole point of decoherence is that the wavefunction evolves into a diagonalizable form over time.

Then my next question would be, exactly when in this evolution does one world become many? 

I also asked

How do you deal with relativity?

evhub replied

Just use the Relativistic Schrodinger equation. 

In relativity, wavefunctions will only be defined with respect to a particular reference frame. You have to say which spacelike surfaces you are treating as surfaces of simultaneity; only then are you equipped to talk about e.g. EPR states. (The technical exception to this is asymptotic states at spacelike infinity.) 

In relativistic quantum field theory, the wave equations have new meanings, they are now operator equations. You're no longer talking about waves with definite values at space-time points (x,t), and a differential equation describing how those values vary. Instead you are talking about "observables" at space-time points (x,t), and operators which formally represent those observables, and the wave equation describes the algebraic relations among those operators; something which empirically translates into relationships among the observables, such as the uncertainty principle. 

I don't know how clear that explanation is, but the significant thing is that the field operators are consistent with relativity because they are anchored at individual space-time points, whereas wavefunctions are defined only with respect to a particular reference frame. The point being that this is a problem for an ontological interpretation which starts by saying that wavefunctions are what's real. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Multiple Worlds, One Universal Wave Function · 2020-11-05T03:19:55.073Z · LW · GW

Sorry, but the Copenhagen interpretation, with the important proviso that observables, not 'the wavefunction', are what's real, is presently the best 'interpretation' of quantum mechanics, because it's the only one that actually works in all situations where QM is applied. 

As someone wishing to understand reality, you are of course free to speculate that the wavefunction is a real thing and not just a step in a calculation, and that it is some kind of multiverse. But if you then wish to proclaim that this is obviously the truth, then the onus is on you, and MWI advocates in general, to exhibit a coherent theory with the rigor of pre-quantum physics. Which basis do you use in obtaining multiple worlds from a single wavefunction? How do you deal with relativity? How do you get the Born rule? MWI advocates give contradictory answers to these questions, or incoherent answers, or no answers at all. In your essay I only see the third question addressed. 

Without coherent answers to questions like these, MWI is simply not a self-sufficient theory; it's just rhetoric - just 'words'. Any actual application of QM still requires the Copenhagen approach. 

The consistent histories or decoherent histories formalism is a working, relativistic, computational framework that also has a many-worlds flavor. Perhaps it will eventually give rise to a true many-worlds theory. But for now it's actually just the Copenhagen interpretation for quantum cosmology. One way to see this is that, just like in ordinary quantum mechanics, the 'user' of the consistent histories formalism gets to choose which observables they care about. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Cowering To Genocide: Uighur Persecution And The World’s Last Hope · 2020-11-03T12:41:20.892Z · LW · GW

Let's compare this goal of "stopping genocide in Xinjiang" with, say, the goal of "stopping famine in Yemen". The Uighurs are governed by a state which is not within the American sphere of influence. Famine in Yemen is the product of a Saudi blockade that is strategically supported by the United States, because it opposes the expansion of the Iranian sphere of influence. It would make slightly more sense to use the NBA to prevent famine in Yemen, since the United States really does have political leverage there. But nothing would actually change unless some faction of America's powerbrokers decided to change the policy. 

(By the way, I don't actually know that "famine in Yemen" is any more real than "genocide in Xinjiang". I'm sure they're having food shortages, but is it actual starvation? I haven't done the research.) 

The "genocide in Xinjiang" is nonexistent, it's a propagandistic construct manufactured by the enemies of China. To speak of "human rights violations" would at least have some truth, but it still evades the question of why they are occurring. Xinjiang has a history of separatist movements, and in this generation, that includes some jihadists. This is an era of Islamic militance, as events in France and Austria have just reminded us. And Xinjiang is also a crucial node in the development of economic ties between China and the Islamic world; hostile powers like America and India want this to fail. So of course China's social engineers are there in force, trying to make the troublesome 10% into patriotic consumers or whatever, while police and spies crack down on the real resistance and on foreign subversion. 

You may not want to hear this, but the quickest way for repression to end is for Uighur resistance to end. Maybe Turkey and the OIC can negotiate a culturally sensitive compromise. But what role does America have in this situation? Trump had an advisor (Carter Page) who counselled economic and strategic cooperation among Russia, China, and America, but he was an early victim of "Russiagate". American strategists think promotion of democracy and human rights is a way for the US to gain strategic advantage. America is ideologically opposed to the Chinese system, and strategically opposed to Eurasian integration. You might better spend your time in reforming your own country's panopticon, while you still can. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Cowering To Genocide: Uighur Persecution And The World’s Last Hope · 2020-11-02T11:02:53.658Z · LW · GW

I must inform you that this post is very detached from reality. First of all, what is a genocide? I always thought it was the killing (-cide) of a people (geno-), and usually involves the murder of hundreds of thousands. Like Germany killing Jews, or Rwanda killing Tutsis, or Turkey killing Armenians. 

On the other hand, China is not trying to eradicate Uighurs. They're not even trying to deny their existence as a distinct ethnic minority. China has dozens of officially recognized minorities, and I think the Uighurs would be in the top ten as far as population is concerned. 

If you actually want to do some good, the first thing you need to do is to find out what is actually taking place in Xinjiang. But here you will need to be aware that China has enemies with rival geopolitical goals and billions of dollars to spend on propaganda campaigns, campaigns which will often be covert in the sense that they won't openly say "this newspaper or this researcher or this defector is funded by intelligence agency of country X". 

It has been noted that Uighurs are Muslims, and the reeducation camps (or whatever they are) are largely aimed at eradicating religious extremism (along with ethnic separatism), and yet the countries that are complaining about their situation are the post-Christian countries of the American bloc, not the Muslim countries of the OIC. 

If you actually want to do some good, you should probably also try, as hard as possible, to understand the thinking of the people who are in charge of whatever it is that you want to change. Though there may be some difficulties for an American, in understanding the thinking of nationalistic bureaucrats and social scientists from a quasi-Marxist one-party state, that's the latest expression of a distinct 5000-year-old civilizational tradition. 

Maybe you can understand it a bit, by thinking in terms of how the American establishment responds to white nationalism. Many of the attitudes of white nationalism were commonplace a century ago, but now it is considered a threat to the cohesion of a multiracial society with high immigration. Also, thinking in terms of nation-building and realpolitik may help you: Xinjiang is a key nexus in plans for a "new silk road" that will be a global economic network under the sway of China, something that China's enemies are trying to undermine. 

There is no genocide in Xinjiang. As far as I am concerned, to use that word to name what you're opposing, already means your rhetoric, and probably your understanding, is unmoored from reality. What's happening in Xinjiang isn't even ethnic cleansing, in the sense of a race being expelled from its homeland. At best, you could perhaps call it colonization by Han Chinese; except that Xinjiang has been part of the People's Republic from its beginning. So it's more like, mass settlement by members of the national ethnic majority, in an area formerly dominated by a minority. (If there's a short name for that, it's not coming to mind.) 

As for the proposal to use the NBA to change Chinese internal policy, it's about as meaningful as K-pop fans fighting conservative populism in America, by booking tickets to a Trump rally so there will be empty seats. Or even less meaningful than that. And didn't "South Park" do an episode on the NBA kowtowing to China to something? Indeed, I've just checked that a team manager tweeted in support of Hong Kong protests, China was angry, and so the NBA apologized. I assure you that even if the NBA as a whole was somehow persuaded to become part of the new cold war against China, it would be about as effective, as Putin's pleas for America to stay in the arms control treaties. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on [deleted post] 2020-10-16T10:43:04.204Z

I would argue that this is not an assumption. Something exists; we know that something exists; and we know that we know. What existence "is", what knowledge "is", how and why knowledge is possible - those are challenging questions. But doubting that anything exists, and doubting that there is any knowledge, seems to require willful negation of fundamental phenomenological facts. 

And it's not far from the existence of knowledge to the existence of "evidence", since evidence is just, any fact that has implications for the truth; and it is part of the manifest nature of knowledge, that it comes via awareness of facts. 

I like Ayn Rand's related formulation: "Existence is identity, and consciousness is identification". To be is to be something, and to be aware is to know something. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Engaging Seriously with Short Timelines · 2020-09-21T12:11:30.813Z · LW · GW

Hi, for some reason I didn't see this reply until recently.

metaethical.ai is the most sophisticated sketch I've seen, of how to make human-friendly AI. In my personal historiography of "friendliness theory", the three milestones so far are Yudkowsky 2004 (Coherent Extrapolated Volition), Christiano 2016 (alignment via capability amplification), and June Ku 2019 ("AIXI for Friendliness").

To me, it's conceivable that the metaethical.ai schema is sufficient to solve the problem. It is an idealization ("we suppose that unlimited computation and a complete low-level causal model of the world and the adult human brains in it are available"), but surely a bounded version that uses heuristic models can be realized.

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Why haven't we celebrated any major achievements lately? · 2020-09-11T09:59:00.099Z · LW · GW

He's a regular on pro-Russian, pro-Chinese political sites. I'm on his mailing list. I was quite surprised to see him here.

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 9/10: Vitamin D · 2020-09-11T04:14:32.710Z · LW · GW

"risk factors... notably diabetes"

This was my thought - that vitamin D deficiency here might be a proxy for ill health in general, with other conditions being the true risk.

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 8/27: The Fall of the CDC · 2020-08-28T04:55:25.208Z · LW · GW

It's surely time to start modeling the endgame, in the form of vaccination scenarios, starting with critical personnel, and extending to the broader population as more doses become available. Not predictions, there's not enough definite information yet, but scenarios: make some assumptions about how vaccines will work (e.g. are boosts needed every few months) and about when they become available, assumptions that are plausible and that are concrete enough to have definite implications - and then let's see what that looks like, let's see what those implications are.

I also don't think that the US has done especially badly, if judged by world standards. I think of its outcome as between Europe's and Mexico's. Very crudely, I think of the populations at risk from Covid as being, first of all, those who are ill or weak due to age, and secondly, younger people with an existing health problem that puts them at risk. Geographically and in terms of total population, the US is comparable to the EU, but would have more people with the kind of conditions (diabetes, hypertension, obesity) that have made the Mexican death rate so high.

I'd also be interested to know what you think of Alex Berenson's oeuvre. He's criticized a lot of policy and journalism regarding the pandemic, and I think some of his criticisms would be right and some wrong, but haven't taken the time to sift through them.