Posts

ryan_b's Shortform 2020-02-06T17:56:33.066Z · score: 7 (1 votes)
Open & Welcome Thread - February 2020 2020-02-04T20:49:54.924Z · score: 18 (9 votes)
Funding Long Shots 2020-01-28T22:07:16.235Z · score: 10 (2 votes)
We need to revisit AI rewriting its source code 2019-12-27T18:27:55.315Z · score: 10 (7 votes)
Units of Action 2019-11-07T17:47:13.141Z · score: 7 (1 votes)
Natural laws should be explicit constraints on strategy space 2019-08-13T20:22:47.933Z · score: 10 (3 votes)
Offering public comment in the Federal rulemaking process 2019-07-15T20:31:39.182Z · score: 19 (4 votes)
Outline of NIST draft plan for AI standards 2019-07-09T17:30:45.721Z · score: 19 (5 votes)
NIST: draft plan for AI standards development 2019-07-08T14:13:09.314Z · score: 17 (5 votes)
Open Thread July 2019 2019-07-03T15:07:40.991Z · score: 15 (4 votes)
Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative 2019-06-28T17:57:54.606Z · score: 23 (7 votes)
Financial engineering for funding drug research 2019-05-10T18:46:03.029Z · score: 11 (5 votes)
Open Thread May 2019 2019-05-01T15:43:23.982Z · score: 11 (4 votes)
StrongerByScience: a rational strength training website 2019-04-17T18:12:47.481Z · score: 15 (7 votes)
Machine Pastoralism 2019-04-03T16:04:02.450Z · score: 12 (7 votes)
Open Thread March 2019 2019-03-07T18:26:02.976Z · score: 10 (4 votes)
Open Thread February 2019 2019-02-07T18:00:45.772Z · score: 20 (7 votes)
Towards equilibria-breaking methods 2019-01-29T16:19:57.564Z · score: 23 (7 votes)
How could shares in a megaproject return value to shareholders? 2019-01-18T18:36:34.916Z · score: 18 (4 votes)
Buy shares in a megaproject 2019-01-16T16:18:50.177Z · score: 15 (6 votes)
Megaproject management 2019-01-11T17:08:37.308Z · score: 57 (21 votes)
Towards no-math, graphical instructions for prediction markets 2019-01-04T16:39:58.479Z · score: 30 (13 votes)
Strategy is the Deconfusion of Action 2019-01-02T20:56:28.124Z · score: 75 (24 votes)
Systems Engineering and the META Program 2018-12-20T20:19:25.819Z · score: 33 (12 votes)
Is cognitive load a factor in community decline? 2018-12-07T15:45:20.605Z · score: 20 (7 votes)
Genetically Modified Humans Born (Allegedly) 2018-11-28T16:14:05.477Z · score: 30 (9 votes)
Real-time hiring with prediction markets 2018-11-09T22:10:18.576Z · score: 19 (5 votes)
Update the best textbooks on every subject list 2018-11-08T20:54:35.300Z · score: 86 (33 votes)
An Undergraduate Reading Of: Semantic information, autonomous agency and non-equilibrium statistical physics 2018-10-30T18:36:14.159Z · score: 31 (7 votes)
Why don’t we treat geniuses like professional athletes? 2018-10-11T15:37:33.688Z · score: 27 (16 votes)
Thinkerly: Grammarly for writing good thoughts 2018-10-11T14:57:04.571Z · score: 6 (6 votes)
Simple Metaphor About Compressed Sensing 2018-07-17T15:47:17.909Z · score: 8 (7 votes)
Book Review: Why Honor Matters 2018-06-25T20:53:48.671Z · score: 31 (13 votes)
Does anyone use advanced media projects? 2018-06-20T23:33:45.405Z · score: 45 (14 votes)
An Undergraduate Reading Of: Macroscopic Prediction by E.T. Jaynes 2018-04-19T17:30:39.893Z · score: 38 (9 votes)
Death in Groups II 2018-04-13T18:12:30.427Z · score: 32 (7 votes)
Death in Groups 2018-04-05T00:45:24.990Z · score: 48 (19 votes)
Ancient Social Patterns: Comitatus 2018-03-05T18:28:35.765Z · score: 20 (7 votes)
Book Review - Probability and Finance: It's Only a Game! 2018-01-23T18:52:23.602Z · score: 25 (10 votes)
Conversational Presentation of Why Automation is Different This Time 2018-01-17T22:11:32.083Z · score: 70 (29 votes)
Arbitrary Math Questions 2017-11-21T01:18:47.430Z · score: 8 (4 votes)
Set, Game, Match 2017-11-09T23:06:53.672Z · score: 5 (2 votes)
Reading Papers in Undergrad 2017-11-09T19:24:13.044Z · score: 42 (14 votes)

Comments

Comment by ryan_b on Visualizing the textbook for fun and profit · 2020-09-25T15:58:21.492Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I like these posts, because it is good to see the process of working through things in their territorial glory rather than being provided a pre-polished map.

I am ~80% confident that if you could achieve the playfulness objective your mastery would be deeper than through the efficient method. I further claim that the dominant factor is not because it is less painful to spend the necessary hours studying. Two factors are higher than wrench-time based on my experience: one is that playfulness yields broad exploration; two is that play helps with durable memory formation.

This is driven by my experience with an electromagnetism theory course, where the play method brought me to a very high percentage score where I had barely passed the previous level of course using the efficient method customary to engineering school. A few key differences worth mentioning:

  • The efficient method in engineering school is essentially a procedure where you identify what information you can ignore, and then build time-efficient algorithms for each kind of problem you normally encounter. This is useful for churning through very high workloads, but fails badly whenever you encounter novel problems or problems with a gotcha in them.
  • I set the level of playfulness above the textbook, at the subject level; I never focused specifically on the reading of the textbook as the objective.

The subject is notoriously difficult, and the course in particular had a grim reputation because it was much more mathematical that the others in the curriculum. My early experiences with problems of that type consisted mostly of bashing my face against them until they gave, which took many hours. By the middle of this course, I had achieved comfort with the following procedure:

  1. Identify the topic, review the notes, engage in visualization of the topic (play).
  2. Attempt the problems.
  3. If stuck, withdraw from the problem and engage in play with the problem subject.
  4. Reattempt the problems.

This allowed me to routinely complete whole homework assignments in an hour or so, which was awesome. I was also able to successfully reconstruct derivations based on the intuitions I had developed through play and review.

Frustratingly I found it was necessary to develop this more or less independently for each course; I simultaneously crashed and burned on other courses because I couldn't get it to work. Damn you, microelectronics!

Comment by ryan_b on Covid 9/24: Until Morale Improves · 2020-09-24T19:01:09.975Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I very much appreciate these posts, and want them to continue.

I make a deliberate policy of minimizing my consumption of pestilence news (but I repeat myself). This is the majority of the updates that I read on the subject.

Comment by ryan_b on ryan_b's Shortform · 2020-09-24T17:20:10.505Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The value is the perception of strength, and relatedly, the threat of destruction.  Actual destruction is minor.

The map is not independent of the territory, here. Few cities were destroyed by nuclear weapons, but no one would have cared about them if they couldn't destroy cities. Destruction is the baseline reality upon which perceptions of strength operate. The whole value of the perception of strength is avoiding actual destructive exchanges; destruction remains the true concern for the overwhelming majority of such spending.

The problem I see is that war is not distinct from economics except as an abstraction; they are in reality describing the same system. What this means is we have a partial model of one perspective of the system, and total negligence of another perspective of the system. Normally we might say not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but we're at the other end of the spectrum so it is more like recruiting the really bad to be an enemy of the irredeemably awful.

Which is to say that economic-adjacent arguments are something the public at large is familiar with, and their right-or-wrong beliefs are part of the lens through which they will view any new information and judge any new frameworks.

Quite separately I would find economics much more comprehensible if they included negatives throughout; as far as I can tell there is no conceptual motivation for avoiding them, it is mostly a matter of computational convenience. I would be happy to be wrong; if I could figure out the motivation for that, it would probably help me follow the logic better.

Comment by ryan_b on ryan_b's Shortform · 2020-09-24T15:04:28.916Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You and everyone else; it seems I am the only one to whom the concept makes any intuitive sense.

But the bottom line is that the value of weapons is destruction, which is to say you are paying $X in order to take away $Y from the other side. Saying we pay $X to gain $Y value is utterly nonsensical, except from the perspective of private sector weapons manufacturers.
 

I agree that economic models are not optimal for war, but I see a significant problem where our the way we think about war and the way we think about war preparation activities are treated as separate magisteria, and as a consequence military procurement is viewed in Congress as an economic stimulus rather than something of strategic import.

Comment by ryan_b on Should it be a research paper or a blog post? · 2020-09-24T14:24:28.628Z · score: 14 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Speaking as a consumer of papers and blog posts rather than as a producer of them: in general there should be few papers that don't also have blog posts.

Research papers, by explicit rule or unfortunate convention, are practically anti-communicative. Their goal is not to present an idea clearly and persuasively, but rather to present it authoritatively. This puts a lot of emphasis on displaying the amount of prior research, and virtually none on effectively communicating the concept, the methods, and the evidence. The only function a paper has, from my perspective, is to put the idea on the official record.

By contrast, a well-constructed blog is a superior communication instrument. The intuitions can be discussed in a way that more clearly matches the researcher's thought process; different intuitive perspectives can be usefully compared and contrasted; media other than static images can be employed. There aren't restrictions on the tools of analysis.

Comment by ryan_b on Comparative Advantage is Not About Trade · 2020-09-24T13:21:53.242Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The argument johnswentworth has presented is that comparative advantage is still at work, and does not require trade or peace. Comparative advantage is what we would use to make sense of strength; it is also what we would use to describe what the weak have which is worth taking.

Comment by ryan_b on Are aircraft carriers super vulnerable in a modern war? · 2020-09-23T20:37:03.121Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

TL;DR: No, but they are much more vulnerable than they used to be, and the number of nations which can threaten them is increasing because the threats are getting cheaper to deploy.

You have two separate questions at work here, and I think we would benefit from disentangling them. They appear to be:

  • Are aircraft carriers vulnerable?
  • Are aircraft carriers useful?

Considering both of these questions might lead to a natural third question:

  • Are aircraft carriers worth it?

Another thing we want to be specific about is: whose aircraft carriers? Most of the answers and possibly also the question implicitly assume the United States, but a US Navy aircraft carrier and anyone else's aircraft carrier are very different propositions.

Onto the first question: vulnerability.

Fundamentally yes; they are large warships and large warships can be sunk. Are they super vulnerable? No; they are very large warships, usually have better signal and detection capability, and have aircraft to use for defense. In the case of US Navy aircraft carriers, they are further surrounded by other large warships, each among the most powerful of their type. Why is this a conversation now and not thirty years ago? Because the stuff used to find and knock out large warships from land is now cheap enough that middle-weight countries can afford them.

Speaking to your specific example:

I.e. can’t an enemy send tons of cheap drone planes and drone submarines to first hunt for its location and then swarm-attack it?

Hypothetically yes. Now the question becomes: launched from where? If these are extremely long range drones, that comes at a premium - this is like electric car batteries, only more so. How to make sure the swarm is sufficiently intact to hurt the aircraft carrier when they get there? If you choose stealth, you have abandoned cheap, which makes a swarm very hard. How efficient are these drones in air-to-air combat against fighters? How vulnerable are they to anti-aircraft guns, and electronic countermeasures? If it is the US Navy again, we are talking about an organization that can put up kill ratios of 12:1 against peer aircraft. A modern carrier wing has ~40 strike fighters. Assuming drones much more capable than we currently deploy seems very reasonable, but 480 of them, plus accounting for other losses, plus the need to actually neutralize the carrier begins to seem like a complex challenge.

Onto the second question: utility.

A short review: aircraft carriers carry aircraft to sea. Their job is to bring these aircraft within range of the objective, and then the aircraft do the work they normally do (patrols, reconnaissance, stopping enemy fighters, bombing stuff). Then they can move to another objective.

Airpower is extremely useful, and control of the air makes everything easier for your side and everything harder for the other side, on land or sea. What does a better, or at least more efficient, job of providing airpower in naval engagements? The short version is that there are no replacements currently, and developing replacements introduces a series of tradeoffs and a very high cost.

Onto the final question: worth it?

There isn't, so far as I am aware, any plan which can replace the capabilities provided by aircraft carriers to the United States. This means we have to continue to pay, or go without. Another item to consider which is specific to the United States: the existence of our Carrier Groups is the bedrock assumption upon which the naval balance of power is calculated. This becomes significant when considering this question for other navies, which lack the experience, production support, strategic integration, and deep other fleet strengths.

My current opinion is probably yes for the United States, and probably no for all others.

Predictably, the problem is complex and there are many more dimensions to consider than I have presented, all in deeper detail. If you want to get a sense of how the discussion looks within the defense community, consider these sources:

Defense One, a popular defense news site.

War on the Rocks, long-form and more opinionated.

RAND, the military think tank par excellence.

Comment by ryan_b on ryan_b's Shortform · 2020-09-23T16:05:57.919Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is there a reason warfare isn't modeled as the production of negative value?

The only economic analyses I have seen are of the estimating-cost-of-lost-production type, which I can only assume reflects the convention of converting everything to a positive value.

But it is so damned anti-intuitive!

Comment by ryan_b on Comparative Advantage is Not About Trade · 2020-09-23T15:51:57.233Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I greatly appreciate this post because my favorite thing in the world is disposing of unnecessary assumptions. The non-coercion assumption that always seems to accompany trade examples is such a one, even aside from ridiculous in general.

Comment by ryan_b on How often do series C startups fail to exit? · 2020-09-21T21:15:22.553Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that answer is high. Unless I have severely misunderstood the text and graphs, they are leaving out the case where a startup does not exit, but also does not fail: it transitions into a sustainable business.

I am unable to locate the source right now, but I strongly recall YCombinator commentary about the number of their investments which transitioned into sustainable businesses, known to them as lifestyle businesses, as distinct from the "big wins" which dominate their profitability.

If I can find it again I will edit.

Comment by ryan_b on I'm Voting For Ranked Choice, But I Don't Like It · 2020-09-21T20:09:10.561Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am sympathetic to your view, I have just never seen anything like it happen in practice.

The problem is that getting voting reform on the ballot requires a huge, focused effort in money and personnel. Once it hits the ballot, win or lose, the money is spent and the overwhelming majority of the people will leave. This is because, at least in American politics, they are either volunteers (temporary) or contractors who fulfill a specific function on a campaign-by-campaign basis (temporary) or an alliance of several orgs with related goals (temporary).

The reason it is IRV rather than Approval here is because IRV has a bigger and more established support base, with more money. This is mostly because IRV is older than Approval and is basically the only option with which regular people might be familiar. There isn't an option available for putting a truly better system on the ballot, because there is no reservoir of money and personnel behind it.

If your frustration hypothesis were correct, then we would consistently see failed reform attempts rapidly replaced with superior reform attempts that succeed. But this isn't the case, as far as I can tell. While I have not done research on this question I am a closer-than-average observer of politics, and I observe that when reforms come up repeatedly they aren't improved. Instead, they are either basically the same (Net Neutrality, sugar subsidies) or differently-bad (encryption legislation, tax reform). All of these options are backed by large institutions, which can sustain a continuous effort over years and decades.

"Hey, we already tried reform, and it ended terribly. Why are they demanding we try it again?"

This is exactly how people usually react when a big reform push fails.

Comment by ryan_b on I'm Voting For Ranked Choice, But I Don't Like It · 2020-09-21T13:55:11.826Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For the same reason as voting in the known-to-be-worst system; those are the options on the table. There is no mechanism where you pass on a poor reform in exchange for a better reform later; the choice is only ever pass reform now, or lose reform completely for a generation or two.

I cannot detect any relationship at all between the goodness of a reform and whether or not it gathers support. If there were a natural relationship between goodness and support, how is it the bad system was ever instituted in the first place, and now needs reform?

Consider also: if a less-bad voting system is instituted, it becomes easier to implement yet another even-less-bad voting system.

Comment by ryan_b on Comparative advantage and when to blow up your island · 2020-09-21T13:45:49.962Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What is the development of this that accounts for the different style of transactions, and for risk?

  • Before trade, X minutes yields a banana or a coconut, which allows for keeping marginal gains. In the trade scenario, this is replaced with a lump sum payment at the end of the day. It seems like we should weigh an all-or-nothing transaction differently then incrementally adding bananas.
  • Following on this, the risks are different. There's not much in the way of perverse behavior you will encounter working for yourself. Further, even outside of perverse behavior you will now absorb regular risks that affect the trade partner and their island. Sprained ankle; outbreak of rats; hurricane hits them but not you.
Comment by ryan_b on Open & Welcome Thread - September 2020 · 2020-09-15T20:39:09.577Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW
Or is not teaching moral uncertainty some kind of Chesterton's Fence, and teaching it widely would make the world even worse off on expectation?

I expect it is this. General moral uncertainty has all kinds of problems in expectation, like:

  • It ruins morality as a coordination mechanism among the group.
  • It weakens moral conviction in the individual, which is super bad from the perspective of people who believe there are direct consequences for a lack of conviction (like Hell).
  • It creates space for different and possibly weird moralities to arise; I don't know of any moral systems that think it is a good thing to be a member of a different moral system, so I expect all the current moral systems to agree on this one.

I feel like the first bullet point is the real driving force behind the problems it would prevent, anyhow. Moral uncertainty doesn't cause people to do good things; it keeps them from doing good things (that are different from other groups' definitions of good things).

Comment by ryan_b on ryan_b's Shortform · 2020-09-15T20:04:51.584Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder how hard it would be to design a cost+confidence widget that would be easily compatible (for liberal values of easy) with spreadsheets.

I'm reading a Bloomberg piece about Boeing which quotes employees talking about the MAX as being largely a problem of choosing the lowest bidder. This is also a notorious problem in other places where there are rules which specify using the lowest cost contractor, like parts of California and many federal procurement programs. It's a pretty widespread complaint.

It would also be completely crazy for it to be any other way, for what feels like a simple reason: no one knows anything except the quoted price. There's no way to communicate confidence simply or easily. The lowest bid is easily transmitted through any spreadsheet, word document, or accounting software, quality of work be damned. Any attempt to even evaluate the work is a complicated one-off report, usually with poorly considered graphics, which isn't even included with the budget information so many decision makers are unlikely to ever see it.

So, a cost+confidence widget. On the simple end I suppose it could just be a re-calculation using a reference class forecast. But if I'm honest what I really want is something like a spreadsheet where each cell has both a numerical and graphical value, so I could hover my mouse over the number to see the confidence graph, or switch views to see the confidence graphs instead of the values.

Then if we're getting really ambitious, something like a time+confidence widget would also be awesome. Then when the time+confidence and cost+confidence values are all multiplied together, the output is a like a heat map of the two values, showing the distribution of project outcomes overall.

Comment by ryan_b on Egan's Theorem? · 2020-09-14T21:30:03.217Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So in a very simple case, would something like a differential equation to which we later add a higher order term qualify?

It seems like if it is to be generally true, iterated refinements of "the same" model are really just a special case.

Comment by ryan_b on Should some variant of longtermism identify as a religion? · 2020-09-11T16:05:42.154Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have just now noticed that using words like should about things like religion stopped making sense to me at some point. I don't know when this happened.

It feels like a more natural way to approach this question is to ask: if long-termism were to embrace ritual, community, and other activities of religion, would long-termism benefit?

Phrased this way, it feels like the answer is yes. There are a slew of reasons for this, but here are a few obvious ones:

  • Use the bias to destroy the bias: people have a hard time with long-termism because of things like future discounting and scope insensitivity. The systematic employment social proof would go a long way to counteract these problems.
  • Learn from the best: religious institutions are heavily over-represented among long-term institutions. This includes things which are practical in purpose, like universities or libraries, but were built under religious auspices or as an extension of other religious institutions. Further, several religions have a lot of rhetorical experience on the subject of eternity (which thanks to scope insensitivity is not distinguishable from the long term among the laity).
  • Administration: a religious organization is a convenient place through which to offer useful long-term services, like financial planning to ensure a stable future for members and help them budget for that 10% charity tithe. Likewise for other areas that are neglected, like mental health, or poorly managed, like the rest of medicine.

And then of course there are the regular concerns like how people in this community often lack physical community, which have been talked about here before. As a single institution, a long-termist religious org has the opportunity to do a reasonable job of harmonizing any sort of village/mission dichotomy.

Comment by ryan_b on How To Fermi Model · 2020-09-10T17:17:04.069Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Strong upvote. This is a great example taking several things we have long discussed and transforming them into being actionable. This also strikes close to the things I have thought were the most under-valued in LessWrong conversation.

I attempted a poor man's ur-version of this years ago when trying to project how long it would take to deliver a product to market, when I lacked information about the primary reference class of similar products (they don't hand project management details over to students; who knew?). All I really did at that time was identify three different reference classes and then averaged together one or two of each, and called that my timeline estimate.

Comment by ryan_b on On Chesterton's Fence · 2020-09-10T16:33:55.848Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have decided to call articulating the value of a specific tradition "hanging Chesterton's Sign."

Comment by ryan_b on High Stock Prices Make Sense Right Now · 2020-09-10T15:00:43.932Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
The hard (but right) way: compute the whole equilibrium for all the investors.

What would be the impact of using a representative sample of investors as a computation-saving measure? By this I mean:

  • Look at the body of all of the investors
  • Identify the different investor types (hedge funds, index funds, day traders, etc)
  • Compute the whole equilibrium for a sample of investors that preserves the proportion of the investor types

I have a suspicion that investor types will correspond to the timelines over which they invest(?) but I am not sure that's how it works from an analysis standpoint.

Comment by ryan_b on Luna First, But Not To Live There · 2020-09-09T17:18:40.777Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is not articulated, but from other reading I have done on the subject the argument is this:

It is well understood that space stations provide most of the value. The significance of a moon base is that it makes the intermediate work of constructing multiple space stations more efficient, especially when it is built for that purpose. Traffic between the moon and a space station, or space station construction site, is much cheaper than between the earth and those sites. Plausible advantages include:

  • Helium-3 for a fuel and/or energy source
  • Depot for storing fuel, equipment, and supplies in bulk
  • Warehousing for stockpiling extracted resources or manufactured products
  • Basing for space-drones which mine asteroids, build space stations, etc.
Comment by ryan_b on August 2020 gwern.net newsletter · 2020-09-07T22:31:00.780Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Curse them! I dropped my membership because it is mostly pretty worthless, but every now and again an interesting paper comes through and then I am sad.

I have fallen right into their trap.

Comment by ryan_b on August 2020 gwern.net newsletter · 2020-09-07T19:21:43.449Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This particular newsletter has a lot of interesting papers in it, which I mostly infer means more time was spent researching things similar to my interests this month.

I notice The Node is Nonsense link now directs to the IEEE website instead of to the pdf. Was that intentional?

Comment by ryan_b on Plans / prepping for possible political violence from upcoming US election? · 2020-08-31T21:32:03.715Z · score: 24 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I have a good amateur background in history and world politics, and went to university for both. I was also an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne, and did one tour each in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I plan to do nothing, other than observe events as they play out. The general structure of my reasoning is as follows: I live in a low-risk area; the probability of widespread violence is remote; the probability of organized, systematic violence more so. There are a few details of my baseline lifestyle worth considering: one, I don't own any weapons; two, I have a kitchen pantry which we keep stocked as a matter of convenience to last for a week before our lifestyle will even be affected, and with rationing could easily last much longer.

The most probable outcome by a long shot is that nothing happens and power transitions more or less as normal (excluding the customary rules of decorum). That isn't really an interesting case, but I put it to you that even if we assume the President refuses to leave office by declaring the election fraudulent or the like, the chances of violence affecting you are remote.

My first reason is straightforward: no enemies around. Most of the American population lives in ideologically-sorted zones, which is to say overwhelmingly-Biden areas or overwhelmingly-Trump areas. In order for there to be serious widespread violence, there needs to be someone around with whom to be violent; most of the time there won't be.

My second reason is that there isn't any organized plan to drive the violence. We can set aside the its-obviously-insane argument and instead consider that this would represent an entirely uncharacteristic amount of competence and concentration from the administration. Conspiracies of that type are very difficult to pull off, even for dedicated professionals, and this administration has had a tendentious relationship with seemingly everyone who meets that description in government.

My third reason is that even in the case where the administration makes active calls for violence, American civilization lacks the group structure by which to prosecute it en masse. In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, civil war can be sustained indefinitely; this is because of the family/clan structures around which life is arranged, and through which most activity happens (including the everyday things like agriculture and commerce). There is nothing like this in the United States; all of our coordination mechanisms are pretty specific to their intended function and by design are either tenuous (like employment) or to allow for other coordination mechanisms to fit into your life (school, church, sports fans). American civilian life does not have any equivalent of the total loyalty required to sustain violence over long periods of time.

In conclusion this means that if violence arises it will likely be spontaneous, short lived, and in areas that are contested or recently saw other violence (bad riots, for example).

I will take the trouble to recommend specifically against buying weapons for fear of nonspecific badness happening soon. Firearms are one of those things where training and experience is necessary both for getting utility and for reducing risk; it is easy to get proficient in marksmanship and maintenance, but very hard to practice handling under extreme stress. Further, if you are feeling motivated by general fears you or those around you are probably also susceptible to despair. You do not want to shoot a bystander by mistake, or accidentally give someone close to you an easy out at the wrong moment.

What to do instead: community hard. If you are by yourself, liberally abuse your communication options to check up on friends and family. Consider checking on your neighbors, especially if there's a power outage or something. Get some basics in, like hospitality and small celebrations. Sustain as many of your routines as safety permits.

Comment by ryan_b on Why haven't we celebrated any major achievements lately? · 2020-08-18T19:57:14.754Z · score: 36 (28 votes) · LW · GW

I propose a more banal explanation for the spontaneous parade element: it's against the law.

  • Parades require permits and extensive logistical planning.
  • Noise ordinances
  • Curfews
  • There are no cannons left to fire, and few bells left to ring

These things have steadily eaten into even long established holidays or other celebrations, like Halloween, the Fourth of July, or the Woodward Cruise.

I also am inclined to finger the attention economy; a huge civilizational accomplishment is unlikely to contain any particular surprise by the time it is completed, because it will be preceded by years of predictions, missed deadlines, scandals, conspiracy theories, etc. All of these will be just as accessible to the public at large as the event itself; I feel like there is probably some effect where people's interest is sort of smeared over all of these and therefore the success announcement falls short of the jubilation-in-the-streets threshold.

Comment by ryan_b on My paper was signalling the whole time - Robin Hanson wins again · 2020-08-11T19:44:26.119Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The datedness of the example reveals how old my last exposure to the literature was. I imagine people making current examples would at least switch to iPhone or something. Possibly one of those clothing brands that have long lines for about six weeks before the trend moves.

Comment by ryan_b on My paper was signalling the whole time - Robin Hanson wins again · 2020-08-10T22:28:09.846Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The method I am most familiar with for estimating the value of things that are intangible (like loyalty) is comparing the price paid vs. the one that could have been paid if the intangible value had not been a factor. The intuition is like branding in marketing, wherein the simple calculation is something like:

(price of Apple computer) - (price of non-Apple computer with same specs) = (value of Apple brand on the computer)

So in the water transfer example, it looks like:

$1B pipeline to prevent unemployment - $0 to cut Egyptian visas = $1B is the value of Northern Highland farmer loyalty.

The structure is intuitive, but it suffers from the usual problem of taking what people say their goals are seriously. Further, it isn't at all clear (at least to me) whether this means that is the price overall or just right now, whether this is payment for loyalty rendered or an investment in future loyalty, etc. And this just gets worse the more factors I try to weigh because the same ambiguity applies to each other factor.

Granted, I might just be very bad at the method; separating signals out from regular transactions help make social questions easier to work with for me.

Comment by ryan_b on My paper was signalling the whole time - Robin Hanson wins again · 2020-08-05T17:04:05.215Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am highly confident Robin Hanson addresses this somewhere, but it strikes me that in this case signalling loyalty and being loyal are identical.

I think the signalling framework is radically superior to the utility-you-give-up framework for establishing what social things people really value.

Comment by ryan_b on How good is humanity at coordination? · 2020-07-23T22:00:13.235Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Taking the question of the title at face value: my model for this says that humans are pretty good at forming groups to coordinate, but that the coordination ability of that group decays over time once formed. This agrees with observations of the rise and fall of empires, religions, and corporations. Germane to the body of the post, it also predicts the decay of nuclear safety over time as exemplified by events like mass cheating scandals in the nuclear force, mass resignation of nuclear safety engineers at a national lab, and withdrawing from nuclear arms control agreements.

Comment by ryan_b on DARPA Digital Tutor: Four Months to Total Technical Expertise? · 2020-07-20T20:50:50.059Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
without doing much of MVP-kind of iteration

Military contracting is too controlled by far to allow for this kind of thing, unless it is being paid for out of a black budget; we have a hard time learning about those for the obvious reasons.

Comment by ryan_b on DARPA Digital Tutor: Four Months to Total Technical Expertise? · 2020-07-20T20:23:26.721Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The test was developed for the purpose, but in the Facilities section I found the following:

Facilities Participants were tested in three separate classrooms provided by the San Diego Naval Base, which hosted the assessment. Each classroom contained three IT systems—one physical system, with a full complement of servers and software (such as Microsoft Server, Windows XP, Microsoft Exchange, CISCO routers and switches, and the Navy’s COMPOSE overlay to Windows) and two identical virtual systems running on virtualized hardware with the same software. The systems were designed to mirror those typically found on Navy vessels and duty stations. The software was not simulated. Participants interacted directly with software used in the Fleet.

So they built actual IT systems in the classroom environment, and then they broke 'em on purpose. This is pretty common in both the IT and military fields as a training technique.

That being said, the environment of a ship is quite a bit more rigidly defined than a corporate one would be, which makes it more predictable along several dimensions. This may weigh slightly against the generalizability desiderata.

Comment by ryan_b on Optimized Propaganda with Bayesian Networks: Comment on "Articulating Lay Theories Through Graphical Models" · 2020-06-29T17:46:59.850Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
The thing is, "Learn the causal graph of why they think that and compute how to intervene on it to make them think something else" is a symmetric weapon—a fully general persuasive technique that doesn't depend on whether the thing you're trying to convince them of is true.

Is there a technical term for the difference between locally-symmetric and symmetric-under-repetition? It remains the case that the people who use the method to prevent vaccinations will have a lot more casualties on their side, which would normally be telling over time.

Comment by ryan_b on DontDoxScottAlexander.com - A Petition · 2020-06-29T14:47:14.550Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · LW · GW
I believe that the NYT is untouchable for the ordinary person.

For one ordinary person, I agree. But Scott isn't one, and neither are his high-profile fellows. However, leaving that aside...

Individuals within the NYT are touchable and if you can associate the choice of the individual to participate in gutter journalism with personal ruin then that will act as a disincentive outside of the control of the NYT.

Destroying NYT reporters is hard work for billionaires and presidents. My expectation for success is very low, because it is something that large newspapers are accustomed to dealing with and specific protections are provided by the law to prevent it.

Indeed I go as far as to say the press considers retaliation as a mark of success; based on Scott's version of his interaction with the reporter I am confident this specific reporter also holds that view. All stories are improved by retaliation against the reporter; this will generate many more eyeballs than one blurb on one corner of the internet would. In summary, it is a very hard task and anything less than total success actually serves the reporter in particular and the NYT in general. Further, if you are unable or unlikely to do it to the next reporter, it doesn't have any real deterrent value.

Consider: in order to ruin him, you'd have to convince the NYT to fire him. If you can do that, why not convince them to leave out one unimportant detail from an unimportant article instead?

Comment by ryan_b on SlateStarCodex deleted because NYT wants to dox Scott · 2020-06-26T16:33:56.867Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
The problem I have using "dox" here is that some portion of the word's negative affect doesn't (or at least might not) apply in this case.

But the pitch for the non-central fallacy is that this is an intentional deviation. For example, if everyone everywhere has always talked about "the criminal, MLK" then saying MLK is a criminal wouldn't be non-central anymore, it would just be the way he is described.

I've never heard any other term except doxxing for deliberately revealing another person's identity on the internet; it is even common use when describing accidental cases. As a practical matter and according to our (or at least the American-centered internet) norms it is a fundamentally malicious act.

Comment by ryan_b on Open & Welcome Thread - June 2020 · 2020-06-26T16:01:24.467Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My daughter is 2. Everything we do with her is either indoctrination or play; she doesn't have enough language yet for the learning-begets-learning we naturally assume with older kids and adults.

I was in the military, which is probably the most successful employer of indoctrination in the US. I believe the key to this success rests with the clarity of the indoctrination's purpose and effectiveness: the purpose is to keep everyone on the same page, because if we aren't our people will die (where our people means the unit). Indoctrination is the only tool available for this because there isn't time for sharing all the relevant information or doing analysis.

I plan to capture these benefits for my daughter by being specific about the fact that I'm using indoctrination and why indoctrination is a good tool for the situation instead of how we think or feel about it, when she inevitably has questions.

The bearing I think this has on the question of mind viruses is that she will know what indoctrination looks like when she sees it. Further, she will have expectations of purpose and impact; political indoctrination fails these tests, which I hope will trigger rejection (or at least forestall overcommitment).

Comment by ryan_b on DontDoxScottAlexander.com - A Petition · 2020-06-25T17:45:25.848Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

NYT as an org has a simple metric: profit. If they lose more subscriptions than they gain ad revenue, there is a good chance they will stop.

It is really hard for companies to get unambiguous signals of don't do this thing; it's why there are marketing budgets. This is a simple and unambiguous way for the broader community to express its unhappiness.

Comment by ryan_b on DontDoxScottAlexander.com - A Petition · 2020-06-25T15:38:48.128Z · score: 15 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I am not worried, because I prefer the world where internet mobs occasionally dox people to the world where internet mobs occasionally dox people and major news outlets systematically dox people.

Comment by ryan_b on Open & Welcome Thread - February 2020 · 2020-06-25T15:21:25.393Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It feels like your background should be attributed differently than things like the Saudi-Russian spat, or the artificially deflated VIX. In Zvi's terminology this is an Unknown Known; it isn't as though you weren't updating based on it. It was merely an unarticulated component of the prior.

Comment by ryan_b on How do you Murphyjitsu essentially risky activities? · 2020-06-23T21:31:56.659Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You won't be able to change Murphyjitsu such that it eliminates these problems. But if you can identify the tradeoffs then you should be able to make the best decision among them, and when the project is a big bet you should be able to confirm whether you can afford to lose.

Comment by ryan_b on The ground of optimization · 2020-06-23T21:09:50.866Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does "ergodic on some manifold" here mean it approaches every point within the manifold, as in the ergodicity assumption, or does it mean described by an ergodic function? I realize the latter implies the former, but what I am driving at is the behavior vs. the formalism.

Comment by ryan_b on Prediction = Compression [Transcript] · 2020-06-23T20:44:12.224Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Yeah, so my dumb argumentive comment is, prediction does not equal compression. Sequential prediction equals compression. But non-sequential prediction is also important and does not equal compression.

I'm not so sure about this. I can accept that non-sequential prediction is not full compression, for the obvious reason that the sequence is information and lacking it means you haven't compressed it; but if this were true in general then how could information about non-sequential things allow us to achieve better compression? For example, in Alkjash's example the frequency of the letters was worth 4 bits.

This causes me to expect that not only does any kind of prediction correspond to some compression, but that each kind of prediction corresponds to a kind of compression.

On the other hand, thinking further about how to distinguish between the 4 bits in the frequency example and the 10 bits from the partial-sequence-elimination example, I am promptly confronted by a grey mist. Mumble mumble prediction/compresson transform mumble.

Comment by ryan_b on Growing Independence · 2020-06-19T14:27:30.512Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

No joke! I once got so out of it that I was supposed to be fetching something from the kitchen, went out and wandered back three times empty handed, and then on the fourth try triumphantly returned with a bowl of watermelon I had sliced. That was not what I was meant to fetch.

Comment by ryan_b on Growing Independence · 2020-06-18T15:26:55.199Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Congratulations! How're the early days going? Does she sleep?

Comment by ryan_b on Growing Independence · 2020-06-18T15:23:14.134Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would argue that giving your kids unconditional love and support is one of those things for which a person should be prepared in life. Of course, I see discipline and independence training as complimentary to this objective.

I feel like a big trick to parenting so far has been trying to find the angle from which these look the same, or at least harmonious.

Comment by ryan_b on Superexponential Historic Growth, by David Roodman · 2020-06-18T14:58:50.126Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is that access to the entire store of matter and energy runs through the single thread of successfully scaling space travel. So the logic appears to run similar to Dissolving the Fermi Paradox; the question largely reduces to whether one or more of the critical choke points fail.

Space travel successful -> almost certain growth

Space travel fails -> almost certain doom

Comment by ryan_b on An Undergraduate Reading Of: Macroscopic Prediction by E.T. Jaynes · 2020-06-16T21:05:55.600Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Apologies for this being late; I also struggled to come up with an example model. Checking the references, he talks about A more thoroughly in the paper where the idea was originally presented.

I strongly recommend taking a look at page 5 of the PDF, which is where he starts a two page section clarifying the meaning of entropy in this context. I think this will help a lot...once I figure it out.

Comment by ryan_b on Open & Welcome Thread - June 2020 · 2020-06-16T15:50:10.597Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Experimenting with this now!

Comment by ryan_b on Open & Welcome Thread—May 2020 · 2020-06-16T11:49:44.481Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Everything about the client *that is relevant to the case,* yes. Omitting relevant facts is grounds for terminating the relationship.

Comment by ryan_b on Speculations on the Future of Fiction Writing · 2020-05-29T15:15:51.328Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have long suspected that the problem of bad writing in movies is largely driven by questions of completeness and adaptation. For example:

  • We rarely see the whole story. Even if it is was shot exactly as written, what we wind up seeing is an edited-down cut of the film; which chunks of the writing get left out makes a big difference to me in my perception of the writing. Consider the case of the character that suddenly sprouts new abilities, which is shit writing. Watching a later director's cut, they often include the scene which includes the crucial explanation of why they have these.
  • The writing doesn't stay the same over the course of filming. There may be practical impediments to a key scene, like the weather ruining outdoor shots; it may prove infeasible to get a good enough set/costume/stunt arrangement to drive a part of the story; maybe the actor just can't pull it off to save their lives. This necessitates re-writes. I strongly expect these to lack the coherency of the original screenplay, because now there are lots of people with input rather than the group accepting a completed script with a single author.
Comment by ryan_b on Open & Welcome Thread—May 2020 · 2020-05-29T14:13:25.032Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like there is no conflict here; in fact it is widely considered a deal-breaker for a client to be guilty and lie to their attorney about it. A client lying to a lawyer is one of the ethically accepted reasons to dump a client they have already agreed to serve. This isn't even pro-forma; in practice, lawyers don't blame one another for dumping clients that lie to them. Nor is it considered a black mark for future hiring with other law firms.

The important variables here are that the lawyer is constrained by the evidence, but they have a duty to their client. This is because lawyers are not fact finders; they are advocates. The American trial system employs the 'arguments are soldiers' system specifically and deliberately, then it has a lot of rules for setting a floor on how bad the arguments can be and relies on nominally-neutral third parties (a judge and/or jury) to assess them.

Consider that a lawyer can represent themselves, their family, or parties in whom they have a financial stake without conflict of interest. However it is considered a conflict of interest if they have a financial stake in the other party, or anything else that might compromise their commitment to advocacy of their client.

So at least in the American system, I put it to you that accepting the case with total certainty your client is guilty is both ethical and rational.