Comment by robertskmiles on If giving unsolicited feedback was a social norm, what feedback would you often give? · 2019-12-10T11:33:19.736Z · LW · GW

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."
-- Charles Dickens, from David Copperfield

Comment by robertskmiles on Steelmanning social justice · 2019-11-26T11:48:31.263Z · LW · GW

I think it's fine as a post, but I'd very much prefer not to have explicitly political (and especially explicitly culture-war) posts here

Comment by robertskmiles on Communication and Waking Hours · 2019-10-08T12:42:56.218Z · LW · GW

That suggestion (allowing certain contacts to have a message saying "This person is asleep, but if you're sure, I can wake them up") has that property of truly great ideas - that it had never occurred to me, but I'm now legitimately angry that it doesn't already exist.

Comment by robertskmiles on How Much is Your Time Worth? · 2019-09-10T13:19:10.668Z · LW · GW

Seconded. Sleep is the sine qua non of my productivity, and the first thing that suffers in heat waves.

Comment by robertskmiles on Seven habits towards highly effective minds · 2019-09-10T12:53:48.186Z · LW · GW

I could imagine a language model tool like Write With Transformer outperforming a random word generator for this, have you tried it? They even have one trained on NLP arXiv papers!

Comment by robertskmiles on Tiddlywiki for organizing notes and research · 2019-09-10T11:57:33.937Z · LW · GW

I used TiddlyWiki a lot for my PhD work and it was excellent, but haven't touched it since for some reason. Maybe I'll pick it back up.

One thing I remember doing was modifying the JS so that it linkifies any mention of a Tiddler, rather than only doing it when you put the name in the 'make this a link' syntax. I found it handy to have it so that any time I mentioned an author, framework, algorithm, dataset etc it would effortlessly be a link to my other notes about that topic. I'll see if I can find the files.

Comment by robertskmiles on Being the (Pareto) Best in the World · 2019-07-02T13:20:45.292Z · LW · GW

I thought about this a lot when considering my work. I'm very far from the best Youtuber, and very far from the most knowledgeable person on AI Safety, but nobody else is trying to combine those things, so I'm probably the best AI Safety Youtuber.

The interaction with comparative advantage is interesting though. I can think of several people off the top of my head who are strictly better than me at both AI Safety and public speaking/communication, who I'm confident could, if they wanted to, do my job better than I can. But they don't want to, because they're busy doing other (probably more important) things. It's not the case that a person on the pareto frontier eats up everything in their chunk of skill space - in practice people can only do a few things at a time. So even if you aren't on the frontier, you're ok as long as the ratio of problem density to 'elbow room' is good enough. You can be the best person in the world to tackle a particular problem, not because nobody else could do it better, but because everyone better is busy right now.

Comment by robertskmiles on Have you lost your purpose? · 2019-06-03T23:07:40.630Z · LW · GW

Oh yes. I think for me some of this has come from the growth of the AI Safety field and the shift in the overton window around this in the time since I started thinking about it. In 2011 I had this feeling of "We are barrelling towards an apocalypse and nobody is paying it any attention". I think a lot of my fire came from the fact that drastic things clearly needed to be done and almost nobody was doing anything, so, shit, I guess it's on me. And now the situation has changed a fair bit, and my personal situation has changed a lot, in that I'm now surrounded by people who also care about this and are working on it, or at least recognise it as an important issue. Sys2 sees pretty clearly that what we've got is nowhere near enough and the problem is very far from solved, but Sys1 sees all these smart and competent people working hard on it, and feels like "Well the whole tribe is oriented to this threat pretty well, so if it can be met, we'll meet it". So what keeps me going is the social stuff, in the sense of "We're all working on this thing in some way, and nobody else seems to be set up to do the specific job I'm doing, so I can be useful to the group".

Comment by robertskmiles on Two agents can have the same source code and optimise different utility functions · 2018-07-10T22:35:33.602Z · LW · GW

Makes sense. It seems to flow from the fact that the source code is in some sense allowed to use concepts like 'Me' or 'I', which refer to the agent itself. So both agents have source code which says "Maximise the resources that I have control over", but in Agent 1 this translates to the utility function "Maximise the resources that Agent 1 has control over", and in Agent 2 this translates to the different utility function "Maximise the resources that Agent 2 has control over".

So this source code thing that we're tempted to call a 'utility function' isn't actually valid as a mapping from world states to real numbers until the agent is specified, because these 'Me'/'I' terms are undefined.

Comment by robertskmiles on Evidence for the orthogonality thesis · 2017-12-03T15:35:01.644Z · LW · GW

A human with barely enough calories to survive is going to be a significantly weaker chess opponent.

Comment by robertskmiles on "I don't know." · 2015-08-25T16:12:26.022Z · LW · GW

It seems to me that "I don't know" in many contexts really means "I don't know any better than you do", or "Your guess is as good as mine", or "I have no information such that sharing it would improve the accuracy of your estimate", or "We've neither of us seen the damn tree, what are you asking me for?".

This feels like a nothing response, because it kind of is, but you aren't really saying "My knowledge of this is zero", you're saying "My knowledge of this which is worth communicating is zero".

Comment by robertskmiles on Positive Queries - How Fetching · 2014-05-07T14:49:35.043Z · LW · GW

Losing keys has two problems. The first is that you can't open the lock, the second is that there's a chance that now someone else can open the lock, if they find your keys and are nefarious. It reminds me of Type 1 and Type 2 errors. Having more keys reduces the risk of "An authorised person is not able to open the lock" by increasing the risk of "An unauthorised person is able to open the lock".

Consider this trade-off carefully.

Comment by robertskmiles on Shut up and do the impossible! · 2014-05-07T14:45:27.481Z · LW · GW

How is this different from the point evand made above?

Comment by robertskmiles on Rationality Quotes January 2013 · 2013-04-25T17:09:10.727Z · LW · GW

Or less. Sometimes an assumption is believed implicitly, and it's not until it has a name that you can examine it at all.

Comment by robertskmiles on What are the optimal biases to overcome? · 2013-03-07T12:01:40.620Z · LW · GW

To add to that, if you want to Do Things The Right Way, don't use a mental list, use a physical list. Using a checklist is one of the absolute best improvements you can make in terms of payoff per unit of effort. The famous example is Gawande, who tested using a "safe surgery" checklist for surgeons, which resulted in a 36% reduction in complications and a 47% fall in deaths.

Comment by robertskmiles on The Fallacy of Gray · 2012-11-16T13:40:03.827Z · LW · GW

Induction is a behavior that seems to help us stay alive.

Well, it has helped us to stay alive in the past, though there's no reason to expect that to continue...

Comment by robertskmiles on Rationality Quotes November 2012 · 2012-11-16T13:39:18.029Z · LW · GW

That's accurate, yes.

Comment by robertskmiles on Rationality Quotes November 2012 · 2012-11-12T20:32:42.832Z · LW · GW

Because it's immaterial to the central point. For a high enough level of "convincingness", fake money has significant real-world value.

Comment by robertskmiles on Rationality Quotes November 2012 · 2012-11-10T18:09:22.133Z · LW · GW

A technicality: Officially, currency is binary, but in practice that's not the case. Fake currency that is convincing still has value. A fake dollar bill with a 50% probability of going un-noticed is in practice worth 50 cents (ignoring social consequences of passing off fake money). Fake currency with 100% convincingness is 100% as valuable as real currency (until you make enough to cause inflation).

Comment by robertskmiles on Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided · 2012-10-15T18:09:12.814Z · LW · GW

An implicit assumption of this article which deserves to be made explicit:

"All negative effects of buying things from the banned store accrue to the individual who chose to purchase from the banned store"

In practical terms this would not be the case. If I buy Sulphuric Acid Drink from the store and discover acid is unhealthy and die, that's one thing. If I buy Homoeopathic Brake Pads for my car and discover they do not cause a level of deceleration greater than placebo, and in the course of this discovery run over a random pedestrian, that's morally a different thing.

The goal of regulation is not just to protect us from ourselves, but to protect us from each other.

Comment by robertskmiles on Causal Diagrams and Causal Models · 2012-10-12T17:07:29.730Z · LW · GW

A few minor clarity/readability points:

  1. The second paragraph opening "The statisticians who discovered the nature of reality" reads rather oddly when taken out of the context of "The Fabric of Real Things".
  2. When considering the three causal models of Burglars, Alarms and Recessions, tackling the models in a "First, third, second" order threw me on first reading. It would probably be easier to follow if the text and the diagram used the same order.
  3. Perhaps giving each node a different pastel colour would make it easier to follow what is changing between different diagrams.

And this has probably been said, but using exercise and weight is probably distracting, since people already have opinions on the issue.

All in all though, a great article.

Comment by robertskmiles on Firewalling the Optimal from the Rational · 2012-10-08T13:58:27.740Z · LW · GW

I think the idea of 'probability as authority' makes some sense as a metaphor. Probability has some rules, and if you follow those rules you are rewarded, and if you break those rules you are punished. The reward and punishment come in the form of 'making good decisions' and 'making dumb decisions'. I'd say probability is an authority in roughly the same way that gravity is a law, i.e. not really, but an occasionally useful metaphor.

This sounds like a disagreement in definitions of "Authority". It's probably worth tabooing it.

Comment by robertskmiles on Rationality: Appreciating Cognitive Algorithms · 2012-10-08T11:59:42.825Z · LW · GW

There's a post about this.

@Eliezer Perhaps it's worth making "try to increase them" a link to lukeprog's "Get Curious" article?

Comment by robertskmiles on Rationality: Appreciating Cognitive Algorithms · 2012-10-08T11:57:42.296Z · LW · GW

Agreed. The use of "I think" relies on its connotations, which are different from its denotation. When you say "I think X", you're not actually expressing the same sentiment as a direct literal reading of the text suggests.

Comment by robertskmiles on New study on choice blindness in moral positions · 2012-09-25T18:07:42.582Z · LW · GW

A rational prior for "the person asking me directions was just spontaneously replaced by somebody different, also asking me directions" would be very small indeed (that naturally doesn't happen, and psych experiments are rare). A rational prior for "I just had a brain fart" would be much bigger, since that sort of thing happens much more often. So at the end, a good Bayesian would assign a high probability to "I just had a brain fart", and also a high probability to "This is the same person" (though not as high as it would be without the brain fart).

The problem is that the conscious mind never gets the "I just had a brain fart" belief. The error is unconsciously detected and corrected but not reported at all, so the person doesn't even get the "huh, that feels a little off" feeling which is in many cases the screaming alarm bell of unconscious error detection. Rationalists can learn to catch that feeling and examine their beliefs or gather more data, but without it I can't think of a way to beat this effect at all, short of paying close attention to all details at all times.

Comment by robertskmiles on Rationality Quotes September 2012 · 2012-09-18T18:09:02.872Z · LW · GW

Cf. Mushin

Comment by robertskmiles on 9/26 is Petrov Day · 2012-09-13T22:27:07.349Z · LW · GW

He didn't say "Wipe out humanity", he said "destroy the world". I'd say a global thermonuclear conflict would do enough damage to call the world destroyed, even if humanity wasn't utterly and irrevocably annihilated.

If I smashed your phone against a wall, you'd say I'd destroyed it, even if it could in principle be repaired.

Comment by robertskmiles on If a tree falls on Sleeping Beauty... · 2012-08-19T00:37:31.326Z · LW · GW

The ancestral environment didn't contain a lot of artificial comas, but to be fair it didn't contain many named week days either.

Comment by robertskmiles on Bayesians vs. Barbarians · 2012-08-07T21:48:18.880Z · LW · GW

One of my core values is liberty - that means the ability of each individual to make his or her own decisions and live his or her life accordingly

A very sensible value in a heterogenous society, I think. But in this hypothetical nation, everyone is a very good rationalist. So they all, when they shut up and multiply, agree that being a soldier and winning the war is preferable to any outcome involving losing the war, and they all agree that the best thing to do as a group is to have a lottery, and so they all precommit to accepting the results.

No point in giving people the liberty to make their own individual decisions when everyone comes to the same decision anyway. Or more accurately, the society is fully respecting everyone's individual autonomy, but due to the very unlikely nature of the nation, the effect ends up being one of 100% compliance anyway.

Comment by robertskmiles on When Truth Isn't Enough · 2012-08-07T14:30:14.930Z · LW · GW

I was bothered by this as well. The statement wasn't "cocktail parties and salons are patronised by the ultra-rich", but "the ultra-rich ... spend their time at cocktail parties and salons". So it's as you say, what you need to look at is not the guest lists for cocktail parties and customer data for salons, but what proportion of a typical ultra-rich person's time is spent at cocktail parties and salons. I don't have the data, but I'd anticipate the mean ultra-rich person spends more time managing their business concerns than attending cocktail parties.

Though this is all Support That Sounds Like Dissent, since none of it really detracts from the central thrust of the post, with which I broadly agree. Still, no point leaving holes in something which is political enough for people to have a good deal of motivated scepticism about it.

Comment by robertskmiles on What are the optimal biases to overcome? · 2012-08-04T16:10:27.517Z · LW · GW

The difference in optimisation targets between LW and H&B researchers is an important thing to point out, and probably the main thing I'll take away from this post.

Biases can:-

  • Be interesting to learn about
  • Serve an academic/political purpose to research
  • Give insight into the workings of human cognition
  • Be fun to talk about
  • Actually help to achieve your goals by understanding them

And the correlations between any 2 of these things need not be strong or positive.

Is it the halo effect if we assume that a more interesting bias will better help us achieve our goals?

Comment by robertskmiles on Reinforcement Learning: A Non-Standard Introduction (Part 1) · 2012-07-30T15:55:44.818Z · LW · GW

If LW's markdown is like reddit's, double tilde before and after will strike through text. Let's see if that works

Edit: It doesn't. Does anyone know how I would go about fixing this?

Edit2: The issue tracker suggests it's been fixed, but it doesn't seem to be.

Comment by robertskmiles on Welcome to Less Wrong! (July 2012) · 2012-07-30T11:18:04.238Z · LW · GW

Are you saying that improving epistemic rationality is important because it benefits others as well as myself?

No, I'm saying that improving the epistemic rationality of others benefits everyone, including yourself. It's not just about improving our own rationality as individuals, it's about trying to improve the rationality of people-in-general - 'raising the sanity waterline'.

Comment by robertskmiles on Welcome to Less Wrong! (July 2012) · 2012-07-28T20:23:15.913Z · LW · GW

I am not interested in improving epistemic rationality right now, partially because I am already quite good at it.

But remember that it's not just your own rationality that benefits you.

it seems presumptuous of me to criticize a theory put forward by very smart people when I only have 1 karma

Presume away. Karma doesn't win arguments, arguments win karma.

Comment by robertskmiles on Shut up and do the impossible! · 2012-07-28T19:19:23.520Z · LW · GW

I'm not certain that I have properly understood your post. I'm assuming that your argument is: "The argument you present is one that advocates self-censorship. However, the posting of that argument itself violates the self-censorship that the argument proposes. This is bad."

So first I'll clarify my position with regards to the things listed. I believe the argument. I expect it would work on me if I were the gatekeeper. I don't believe that my argument is the one that Eliezer actually used, because of the "no real-world material stakes" rule; I don't believe he would break the spirit of a rule he imposed on himself. At the time of posting I had not given a great deal of thought to the argument's ramifications. I believe that AI risk is very much a real thing. When I have a clever idea, I want to share it. Neither votes nor the future of humanity weighed very heavily on my decision to post.

To address your argument as I see it: I think you have a flawed implicit assumption, i.e. that posting my argument has a comparable effect on AI risk to that of keeping Eliezer in the box. My situation in posting the argument is not like the situation of the gatekeeper in the experiment, with regards to the impact of their choice on the future of humanity. The gatekeeper is taking part in a widely publicised 'test of the boxability of AI', and has agreed to keep the chat contents secret. The test can only pass or fail, those are the gatekeeper's options. But publishing "Here is an argument that some gatekeepers may be convinced by" is quite different from allowing a public boxability test to show AIs as boxable. In fact, I think the effect on AI risk of publishing my argument is negligible or even positive, because I don't think reading my argument will persuade anyone that AIs are boxable.

People generally assess an argument's plausibility based on their own judgement. And my argument takes as a premise (or intermediary conclusion) that AIs are unboxable (see 1.3). Believing that you could reliably be persuaded that AIs are unboxable, or believing that a smart, rational, highly-motivated-to-scepticism person could be reliably persuaded that AIs are unboxable, is very very close to personally believing that AIs are unboxable. In other words, the only people who would find my argument persuasive (as presented in overview) are those who already believe that AIs are unboxable. The fact that Eliezer could have used my argument to cause a test to 'unfairly' show AIs as unboxable is actually evidence that AIs are not boxable, because it is more likely in a world in which AIs are unboxable than one in which they are boxable.

P.S. I love how meta this has become.

Comment by robertskmiles on Neuroscience basics for LessWrongians · 2012-07-25T10:34:38.846Z · LW · GW

But it turns out that tasks that seem easy to us can in fact require such a specialized region.

In a way, this really shouldn't be surprising at all. Any common mental task which has its own specialised region will of course seem easy to us, because it doesn't make use of the parts of the brain we are consciously aware of.

Comment by robertskmiles on Tips for Starting Group Houses · 2012-07-17T19:41:47.409Z · LW · GW

I think the "just make sure everyone agrees on everything" idea is a good one, but quite difficult in practice.

Comment by robertskmiles on What Is Optimal Philanthropy? · 2012-07-12T16:56:33.964Z · LW · GW

With this line of argument, there's literally no point at which one can sit back and say, "I've fulfilled my duty to charity - there's nothing more to do".

That reminds me very strongly of something I read in a Jewish prayerbook, or possibly the Talmud, a long time ago. I can't find it with google (translation being what it is), but here's my best recollection:

"It is a command we are given repeatedly in Torah. But what does it really mean to 'love your neighbour as yourself'? ... Never would a man say 'I have fulfilled my obligation to myself'. In the same way, you have never fulfilled your obligation to your neighbour."

Taking the comparison back the other way raises what I think is an interesting question. People have no issues with the idea that your obligations to yourself are unbounded, so why does having unbounded obligations to others pose a problem?

There's literally no point at which one can sit back and say, "I've fulfilled my duty to myself - there's nothing more to do".

Comment by robertskmiles on Self-deception: Hypocrisy or Akrasia? · 2012-06-18T12:53:31.147Z · LW · GW

I don't think you fucked up. Down-votes aren't from me.

Anyway, yeah I agree, Stephenson's own position is very different from the Vicks'. I still think they're the "good guys" in the story though, even though their opinions aren't held by the author.

Comment by robertskmiles on Self-deception: Hypocrisy or Akrasia? · 2012-06-18T11:59:26.488Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure I agree with you on that. CryptNet and the Distributed Republic have quite minor roles in the story, and pretty much every single major character (with the exception of the Confucians) is a Neo-Victorian. It's too good a book to have Righteous Kind And Noble Heroes Beyond All Reproach, and the Vicks have their problems, but I'd say they are basically "the good guys", and if not that then certainly the protagonists, of the story.

Comment by robertskmiles on Local Ordinances of Fun · 2012-06-18T11:38:08.795Z · LW · GW

I think the criticism of 6 is a misunderstanding. It doesn't say "the world resembles the ancestral savanna", it says "the world resembles the ancestral savanna more than say a windowless office". The best environment is unlikely to be anything like the ancestral savanna, but it's likely to be closer to that than to a windowless office, in terms of sensory experience. The point I think is not the specifics of the environment, but that it engages with our bodies and senses in a way that we, as evolved creatures, find satisfying, and in a way that the purely mental stimulation available in the office does not.

That's what I took away from the linked post.

Comment by robertskmiles on Self-deception: Hypocrisy or Akrasia? · 2012-06-18T11:21:37.727Z · LW · GW

The Neo-Victorians in that book certainly have a very interesting take on hypocrisy.

For the sake of those unfortunates who haven't read it, the argument is that the current popularity of condemning people for hypocrisy is a consequence of cultural and moral relativism. Because it's supposedly not allowed to criticise someone for breaking your moral code (because they may have a different code which must be considered equally valid), you can only criticise people when they break their own moral code. The idea is that we, as people, enjoy moral condemnation, but in a culturally and morally relativist society, the only form of moral condemnation acceptable is accusations of hypocrisy, so it grows to a disproportionate significance.

I'm not sure I buy it entirely, since most people have very little trouble with condemning others according to the judger's moral code. But I think it is likely to be a factor.

Comment by robertskmiles on Rationality Quotes June 2012 · 2012-06-15T16:11:11.793Z · LW · GW

Absolutely. What I mean is that they are incompatible. In the common case, it's impossible to simultaneously "consider what will work best" and "ignore what other people are doing". Figuring out what will work best requires paying attention to what other people are doing.

Comment by robertskmiles on Rationality Quotes June 2012 · 2012-06-15T15:22:25.288Z · LW · GW

Unless your technology will be required to interact with the technology other people are using, which is most of the time. "What will work best" often depends heavily on "what other people are doing".

Comment by robertskmiles on Conspiracy Theories as Agency Fictions · 2012-06-15T14:38:34.162Z · LW · GW

I think starting with religion would be a mistake, for standard 'politics is the mindkiller' reasons.

Comment by robertskmiles on Conspiracy Theories as Agency Fictions · 2012-06-15T14:30:38.824Z · LW · GW

And of course this doesn't just apply to governments, but to any organisation. Corporations, religious organisations, and even charities are all (to varying extents) vulnerable to this approach.

Comment by robertskmiles on Avoid inflationary use of terms · 2012-06-11T17:32:26.989Z · LW · GW

I think the problem with over-use of "awesome" is not so much its use for less substantial things, but its use as a generic positive adjective. Awesome has a meaning - it means "inspiring awe". I've seen awesome skateboard tricks, they inspired in me a sense of awe at the skill and athletic ability of the skateboarder. Awesomeness of course is defined in terms of a person's reaction, so it's a subjective thing. I have no problem with people who have awe instilled in them by things I don't find awesome. But some people use 'awesome' to mean 'really good'. As in "I know an awesome mexican restaurant where we can have lunch". Here the speaker isn't talking about awe at all, and that is what dilutes the word.

Same thing with "incredible" and "unbelievable", with "fantastic" and "fabulous". These words don't just mean "really good", they carry specific meanings for why the thing they describe is good. Describing a scientific result as "incredible" means it's bad science, since the result cannot be believed. Describing a business plan as "fantastic" means it's terrible, since it's far removed from reality, a fantasy.

Comment by robertskmiles on Great Books of Failure · 2012-05-11T12:09:01.738Z · LW · GW

This "put your quality control where your mouth is" approach seems to be quite common in history. I remember reading somewhere (and take this with the level of credibility deserved of sentences beginning with "I remember reading somewhere"), that in the English Civil War all breastplates had a 'proof mark', which was the dent made by firing a pistol shot at the armour at close range, while it was worn by the armourer.

Edit: This may well be the origin of the term 'bullet-proof'

Comment by robertskmiles on Minicamps on Rationality and Awesomeness: May 11-13, June 22-24, and July 21-28 · 2012-04-28T23:20:18.864Z · LW · GW

The possibility of flying out for this only became apparent to me very late on. I submitted an application as soon as I knew it was an option for me, which was the 22nd of April. Since it seems like applicants are already getting answers, I'm resigned to the possibility that my application was submitted too late to be considered.

Is that in fact the case? If so, it's probably worth modifying or removing the "Apply Now" links. If not though, I'll adjust my holiday plans accordingly.

Comment by robertskmiles on An EPub of Eliezer's blog posts · 2012-04-18T12:17:18.637Z · LW · GW

Caveat Lector: This ebook is very long.

Kindles are weird. I just thought "Huh, I've been reading this for a long time now, and I'm only 70% through. I wonder how long it is..." So I ran a word count; One Million words. I did some calculations. At the font size I read at, I get about 115 words per page. So 1,040,000 words covers 9043 pages. A paperback I picked off my shelf fits 386 pages in 2.6cm thickness, making a page 0.00674cm thick. So if this were a physical book it would be 9cm wide, 12cm tall, and 62cm thick.

If you put it down it would stand 2 feet tall. With my 70% bookmark six inches off the ground.

Don't be put off though, this book has easily held my interest so far. It is definitely worth the time to read. But don't expect to knock it out over a weekend.