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 I read “White Fragility” so you don’t have to (but maybe you should) · 2021-09-08T07:22:14.015Z · LW · GW

DiAngelo grew up Catholic and poor. It's like she's a saint of antiracism - she didn't have the luxury of coming from a comfortable economic class, but still learned to do penitence for her original sin of white privilege. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Conflict in Kriorus becomes hot today, updated, update 2 · 2021-09-08T02:36:10.106Z · LW · GW

Anecdotes 1 2 say that Valeria got financial backing from Italy's biggest crime syndicate, and that members of the syndicate are among those suspended! 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Book review: Shut Out · 2021-09-03T22:11:43.319Z · LW · GW

My first awareness of the American housing bubble was Casey Serin's blog. He was a hapless "investor" (speculator, really) who had bought half a dozen houses, intending to make money by reselling them quickly, as prices continued going up. Except that they stopped going up, and he found himself in debt for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He blogged openly about his woes, and built up an audience of haters who pointed out that he had broken the law in various ways. Many eagerly awaited the day when the FBI caught up with him. But by the time that happened, the crisis had moved on to the Wall Street banks who had been packaging the mortgage debts of people like Casey, and selling them to their own "investors", and we were in the era of billion-dollar bailouts and emergency G20 summits. 

I have not kept track of the conventional wisdom regarding the cause of the 2008 recession, but I would hope it was something like: there was reckless lending and borrowing at every level, from local real estate to corporate finance to government bonds, and the bursting of the housing bubble simply exposed the vulnerability of this house of cards. Erdmann apparently doesn't have much to say about this larger context? 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 8/26: Full Vaccine Approval · 2021-09-02T08:25:06.660Z · LW · GW

Your link for Madhya Pradesh actually contains no data about ivermectin use there. The date marked on the graph is when India's national Covid protocols mentioned ivermectin (and various other medications). So far the only Indian states where I've seen reference to official use of ivermectin are Uttar Pradesh, Goa, and maybe Uttarakhand. Certainly there may be others. 

My understanding is that in Goa, the health minister said they would make it available for all adults, then WHO's chief scientist (who is Indian) recommended not using ivermectin, and the national government removed ivermectin and other medications from the national protocols; and then Goa denied the policy. 

In Uttar Pradesh, apparently ivermectin could be part of 7-day home isolation kits for people exposed to Covid or showing symptoms, but I have no data on how many such kits were issued, how many of them actually contained ivermectin, or how often the ivermectin was used. 

Anecdotally, we can say that ivermectin has had widespread use in India in a decentralized way, as part of treatment for mild Covid or as part of a prophylactic regimen. But I remain very skeptical that it was widespread enough to significantly affect the course of the pandemic there. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Long Covid Is Not Necessarily Your Biggest Problem · 2021-09-02T08:10:20.186Z · LW · GW

Uttar Pradesh gives everybody prophylatic ivermectin

All I can find is that when people show symptoms or have been exposed, they are given a home isolation kit with 7 days of medical supplies that include ivermectin. Is that what you mean? 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 8/26: Full Vaccine Approval · 2021-09-01T16:02:02.756Z · LW · GW

Uttar Pradesh has almost a quarter of a billion people. I am very skeptical of claims that ivermectin made much of a difference there. I have been unable to find out how many ivermectin doses were sent out or used - hundreds of thousands? millions? But if we look at vaccination rates, about one quarter of the state have had one shot, and 5%, two shots. That's not enough to strongly affect infection rates, and I would be surprised if even that many people were using ivermectin. 

They did have a severe outbreak in the second wave, like the rest of India, so an unknown fraction of the population would have antibodies. They implemented lockdowns, border control (I read that you can't enter the state without a negative PCR test), and other public health measures. UP has a BJP government (the chief minister is sometimes mentioned as a successor to Modi), and their supporters have been bragging about UP's successes compared to "Marxist" Kerala in the south, while their opponents have been saying that the figures are too low to be believed. I don't know who you should trust there. I notice that across the border in Madhya Pradesh, another mega-state with over 70 million residents, they also report extremely low case numbers. 

It's definitely of interest to understand how things have unfolded in India, but I strongly doubt that ivermectin made much difference. At the very least we would need to know how many people there took it... My expectation is that the course of the pandemic in India is to be explained by a combination of public health measures, private caution, and perhaps natural herd immunity in some populations (like the Dharavi slum in Mumbai). 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on The Governance Problem and the "Pretty Good" X-Risk · 2021-08-30T05:45:57.108Z · LW · GW

Are you familiar with CEV

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 8/26: Full Vaccine Approval · 2021-08-29T03:42:33.041Z · LW · GW

The Lancet had a "no-Covid" article, the UK has a "zero Covid coalition". But these predate the era of mass vaccination and the Delta strain. 

Let us consider the known tools for suppressing the virus. One is restriction on human movement - quarantine, border control, lockdown. This worked for Australia and New Zealand before the Delta strain, but not any more. 

Then there's antibodies: natural immunity in those who already caught the virus; vaccination; and herd immunity from a population full of antibodies, making effective transmission difficult. 

The major western vaccines were touted as good for preventing transmission and infection. But at this point, their main unequivocal virtue lies in preventing serious illness. To an unknown degree, vaccinated people can still get infected and can still infect others. This, along with reluctance to get vaccinated in a significant portion of the population, is why masks and other such measures have returned. 

Given that social resistance to vaccination and to continued restrictions, an optimal strategy cannot assume 100% consent and participation. Perhaps the way it will play out, is that vaccination and other public health measures will play the main role, and the remaining role will be filled by natural herd immunity building up among the unvaccinated. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 6/17: One Last Scare · 2021-08-16T06:46:47.701Z · LW · GW

Unequivocal example from 2015: "You can’t take for granted that good people build good AIs and bad people build bad AIs."

A position paper from 2004. See the whole section "Avoid creating a motive for modern-day humans to fight over the initial dynamic."

Tweets from 2020. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Re: Competent Elites · 2021-07-16T15:02:29.914Z · LW · GW

Rationalism is an eternal struggle between Dempster-Shafer and Dunning-Kruger. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Covid 6/17: One Last Scare · 2021-07-07T02:18:26.039Z · LW · GW

You write

MIRI should’ve been an attempt to keep AGI out of the hands of the state

Eliezer several times expressed the view that it's a mistake to focus too much on whether "good" or "bad" people are in charge of AGI development. Good people with a mistaken methodology can still produce a "bad" AI, and a sufficiently robust methodology (e.g. by aligning with an idealized abstract human rather than a concrete individual) would still produce a "good" AI from otherwise unpromising circumstances. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on How do the ivermectin meta-reviews come to so different conclusions? · 2021-06-30T02:10:20.084Z · LW · GW

This all sounds rather grim, an extreme case of the hype and uneven quality that probably afflicts all research areas now... Number 8 seems especially grim, even though it doesn't involve outright corruption, since it means that any counter-institution trying to do quality control will be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of papers... Nonetheless: What you describe is a way to check the quality of an individual paper. Is there any kind of resource that reliably turns up high-quality papers? Perhaps literature reviews or citation counts? 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Non-poisonous cake: anthropic updates are normal · 2021-06-22T06:10:07.273Z · LW · GW

Steven Weinberg argued anthropically for a small nonzero cosmological constant, a few years before dark energy became part of standard cosmology. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021 · 2021-06-14T03:08:08.875Z · LW · GW

Turns out it was a post at Steve Hsu's blog about Francois Chollet

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on How counting neutrons explains nuclear waste · 2021-06-11T08:05:00.850Z · LW · GW

Does the shell theory explain why it becomes unusually unstable once there's two neutrons past the shell (and not when there's two protons past the shell)?

For alpha decay, a bunch of two protons and two neutrons need to detach. Two protons will have a greater intrinsic chance of breaking away, because of charge repulsion from other protons. So it's detaching the neutrons which is hardest. 

So, if you are considering various nuclei with two nucleons outside the filled shells, and asking when alpha emission faces the lowest energy barrier, it might be the case in which the two protons come from a filled shell (and can use charge repulsion to escape), and the neutrons are the two loose nucleons. 

And also, why does the decay mode suddenly change to alpha particles?

The proton shell after Z=82 seems to be the threshold at which electrostatic repulsion between protons, wins out over strong-force cohesion among nucleons. Although it can take a while... the half-life of bismuth-209 is 10^19 years!

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Against intelligence · 2021-06-09T14:43:31.869Z · LW · GW

reading someone that "understood AI" 10 years ago and doesn't own a company valued at a few hundred millions is like reading someone that "gets how trading works", but works at Walmart and live with his mom 

Such an interesting statement. Do you mean this literally? You believe that everyone on Earth who "understood AI" ten years ago, became a highly successful founder?

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Power dynamics as a blind spot or blurry spot in our collective world-modeling, especially around AI · 2021-06-02T23:14:23.862Z · LW · GW

Trying to get the gist of this post... There's the broad sweep of AI research across the decades, up to our contemporary era of deep learning, AlphaGo, GPT-3. In the 2000s, the school of thought associated with Eliezer, MIRI, and Less Wrong came into being. It was a pioneer in AI safety, but its core philosophy of preparing for the first comprehensively superhuman AI, remains idiosyncratic in a world focused on more specialized forms of AI. 

There is a quote from Eliezer talking about "AI alignment" research, which would be that part of AI safety concerned with AI (whether general or special) getting the right goals. Apparently the alignment research community was more collaborative before OpenAI and truly big money got involved, but now it's competitive and factional. 

Part of the older culture of alignment research, was a reluctance to talk about competitive scenarios. The fear was that research into alignment per se would be derailed by a focus on western values vs nonwestern values, one company rather than another, and so on. But this came to pass anyway, and the thesis of this post is that there should now be more attention given to politics and how to foster cooperation. 

My thoughts... I don't know how much attention those topics should be given. But I do think it essential that someone keep trying to solve the problem of human-friendly general AI in a first-principles way... As I see it, the MIRI school of thought was born into a world that, at the level of civilizational trends, was already headed towards superhuman AI, and in an uncontrolled and unsafe way, and that has never stopped being the case. 

In a world where numerous projects and research programs existed, that theoretically might cross the AI threshold unprepared, MIRI was a voice for planning ahead and doing it right, by figuring out how to do it right. For a while that was its distinctive quality, its "brand", in the AI world... Now it's a different time: AI and its applications are everywhere, and AI safety is an academic subdiscipline. 

But for me, the big picture and the endgame is still the same. Technical progress occurs in an out-of-control way, the threshold of superhuman AI is still being approached on multiple fronts, and so while one can try to moderate the risks at a political or cultural level, the ultimate outcome still depends on whether or not the first project across the threshold is "safe" or "aligned" or "friendly". 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on [Prediction] What war between the USA and China would look like in 2050 · 2021-05-26T15:33:18.249Z · LW · GW

Even without a singularity, 2050 is unimaginably far away. 2050 is as far from 2021, as 2021 is from 1992, a time when there was no mass Internet, no smartphones, no 9/11, Japan was America's big economic rival, China was still debating whether to continue economic reform, the Soviet Union had just ceased to exist and the European Union had just begun to exist. Half the world population of 2021 wasn't even alive in 1992. 

Comment by Mitchell_Porter on Estimating COVID cases & deaths in India over the coming months · 2021-05-17T12:52:42.447Z · LW · GW

Some headlines today about case numbers going down in big cities... If anyone still wants to wrestle with the Indian second wave, some information sources: 

https://covid19india.org 

https://twitter.com/BhramarBioStat 

https://www.reddit.com/r/IndiaSpeaks 

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.