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 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: 9 (5 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.

Comment by ryan_b on Open & Welcome Thread—May 2020 · 2020-05-28T21:20:23.194Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am not versed in economics literature, so I can't meet your need. But I have also encountered ergodicity economics, and thought it was interesting because it had good motivations.

I am skeptical for an entirely different reason; I encountered ergodic theory beforehand in the context of thermodynamics, where it has been harshly criticized. I instinctively feel like if we can do better in thermodynamics, we can employ the same math to do better in other areas.

Of course this isn't necessarily true: ergodic theory might cleave reality better when describing an economy than gas particles; there is probably a significant difference between the economics version and the thermodynamics version; the criticism of ergodic theory might be ass-wrong (I don't think it is, but I'm not qualified enough for strong confidence).

Comment by ryan_b on Predicted Land Value Tax: a better tax than an unimproved land value tax · 2020-05-28T20:45:19.967Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Okay that makes sense, but now I'm confused on exactly how the real prices relate to the predictions. I expect the details of that mechanism to be the crux of the issue; exactly how the price updating is done will determine who the winners and losers are relative to the desired outcome.

It still feels like solving that problem well would be tantamount to solving the unimproved value problem, but I'm perfectly happy to be wrong.

Comment by ryan_b on Predicted Land Value Tax: a better tax than an unimproved land value tax · 2020-05-27T18:23:30.570Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A lens is a more structured form of perspective, the way we use the term in the community; the emphasis is on being able to move between different ones. We tend to use it for different analytical frameworks (CS, econ, engineering, finance, etc).

The industrial facility effects will be variable depending on what the facility is. For example, a nuclear power plant or a microchip factory will tend to increase property values because of an influx of good paying jobs but a coal power plant or a meat factory will tend to decrease property values because they reek and are miserable to live near.

But the broader point is that the predictions are based on the price history of the last 10 years, when there was no such major price impact. I expect the prediction software to continue predicting stable prices, which means the people who live with a new meat factory are paying taxes based on too high a value, and the people who live next to a new microchip factory are paying based on too low a value. These would eventually even out as the actual sales enter the price history, but this is a long lead time. I also expect that the price would be distorted by the understanding that some places are tax bargains, and some tax banes, which would extend the time for the predictions to correct back to true value.

It looks to me like the same mechanism that preserves the incentive to improve your land works to exclude significant changes in land value more generally; all the directions I can envision for solving this look suspiciously like solving the problem of assessing the unimproved value of land.

Comment by ryan_b on Predicted Land Value Tax: a better tax than an unimproved land value tax · 2020-05-27T14:14:25.293Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I appreciate first stabs at improvements in governance; upvoted. Would I be correct in inferring you are thinking about this largely through a computer science lens, rather than an economic one?

What do you think about dealing with price discontinuities? I have in mind things like: major housing development in formerly rural areas due to urban expansion; the construction of a new industrial facility; the discovery of natural resources beneath the land; the major local industry collapsing; critical infrastructure failures like the water supply being contaminated.

I'm confused about the relationship between the bids on the property (the value) and the output of the prediction engine (the predicted value) as a consequence of the above. It looks like the prediction software is designed to exclude price discontinuities in its value estimate, which is how it preserves the incentive to improve the land; but this means we are systematically predicting wrong on purpose, which feels weird. The bids themselves don't appear to have any importance.

Comment by ryan_b on An Undergraduate Reading Of: Macroscopic Prediction by E.T. Jaynes · 2020-05-05T19:34:22.403Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is captured in Section 5, the Maximum Caliber Principle:

We are given macroscopic information A which might consist of values of several physical quantities . . . such as distribution of stress, magnetization, concentration of various chemical components, etc. in various space time regions. This defines a caliber . . . which measures the number of time dependent microstates consistent with the information A.

So the idea is that you take the macro information A, use that to identify the space of possible microstates. For maximum rigor you do this independently for A and B, and if they do not share any microstates then B is impossible. When we make a prediction about B, we choose the value of B that has the biggest overlap with the possible microstates of A.

He talks a little bit more about the motivation for doing this in the Conclusion, here:

We should correct a possible misconception that the reader may have gained. Most recent discussions of macrophenomena outside of physical chemistry concentrate entirely on the dynamics (microscopic equations of motion or an assumed dynamical model at a higher level, deterministic or stochastic) and ignore the entropy factors of macrostates altogether. Indeed, we expect that such efforts will succeed fairly well if the macrostates of interest do not differ greatly in entropy.

Emphasis mine. So the idea here is that if you don't need to account for the entropy of A, you will be able to tackle the problem using normal methods. If the normal methods fail, it's a sign that we need to account for the entropy of A, and therefore to use this method.

I can't do the physics examples either except in very simple cases. I am comforted by this line:

Although the mathematical details needed to carry it out can become almost infinitely complicated...
Comment by ryan_b on Insights from Euclid's 'Elements' · 2020-05-04T18:45:21.448Z · score: 15 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is glorious. On the flip side of the coin, I struggle with outrage that we had copped to the problem of presenting information and basically had it licked in the middle of the 19th century, and then apparently systematically purged such knowledge during the 20th. For example, there's this interesting piece about Emma Willard, who drew gorgeous visuals providing perspective to history. She began in ~1837. Good use of images seems only now to be undergoing a renaissance, and that owing to the availability of computer graphics more than anything else.

What the devil happened erstwhile?

Comment by ryan_b on Comprehensive COVID-19 Disinfection Protocol for Packages and Envelopes · 2020-03-29T16:37:17.803Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well that sucks. Take care of yourself and stay sane during isolation!

Comment by ryan_b on History's Biggest Natural Experiment · 2020-03-25T17:32:45.096Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like this is evidence for the natural experiment interpretation. This means we will get a steady stream of new findings as each maturation window approaches, for decades to come.

Comment by ryan_b on Are veterans more self-disciplined than non-veterans? · 2020-03-24T02:12:32.311Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To be more exact, if you have a group, then the group provides social incentives; but social incentives do not imply a group. For example, if I were publicly humiliated in front of strangers, they might mock me if they saw me later in a restaurant. This is a social (dis)incentive, but the fact remains that we aren’t in a group.

What qualifies people as a group in the sense that I intend is at least twofold: they have to share the same set of incentives; this fact has to be common knowledge among them.

I do agree that if person trains successfully it would improve long-run discipline, but doing military training won’t meaningfully change the outcome from non-military training because the group context is what does the extra work. If that is not the focus, ie veterans are just an example disciplined population, then my comments are probably not relevant to the true concern.

Comment by ryan_b on Can crimes be discussed literally? · 2020-03-23T19:24:35.946Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me precisely the opposite: my reading is that Benquo is driving exactly at how to talk about the problem of systemic falsification of information.

If the post is noncentral, what is the central thing instead?

Comment by ryan_b on Are veterans more self-disciplined than non-veterans? · 2020-03-23T16:21:39.030Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I am a veteran, and my inside view suggests two things: one, the least disciplined members of the population are filtered out by the military (which is to say they are not accepted or kicked out early); two, the military experience pushes veterans towards the extremes.

Reasons to consider that veterans would be more productive than average:

  • Acclimated to long and/or strenuous work periods.
  • Better access to education through veterans programs and admission boosts.
  • Direct boost to employability in a variety of industries.

Reasons to consider that veterans would be less productive than average:

  • Higher rates of homelessness
  • Higher rates of mental illness and suicide
  • Higher rates of substance abuse
  • Etc.

My expectation is that the productivity advantage is highest when veterans enter a civilian industry that matches military tasks closely, like compliance with regulations or uncomfortable work environments. I also expect that the veterans who fail to re-adapt to civilian life suffer an almost complete collapse of productivity.

Turning to the question of discipline, I think we will benefit from a little context. Discipline in the military is very much a team phenomenon; Army training is focused overwhelmingly on establishing and maintaining a group identity. Most of the things people associate with military discipline require other people to make sense, like the chain of command, pulling security, and how tasks are divided. Even the individual things like physical fitness or memorizing trivia, are thoroughly steeped in the team environment because they are motivated by being able to help your buddy out and are how status is sorted in the group.

I believe your friend's statement:

If you can just train yourself like you're in the army, then you can become just as self disciplined as a soldier

is wrong as a consequence, because you can never train yourself like you are in the Army. That fundamentally needs a group, entirely separate from the question of social incentives and environment. Outside of the group context, discipline doesn't really mean anything more than habit formation.

Comment by ryan_b on LessWrong Coronavirus Agenda · 2020-03-19T17:28:07.021Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If the same type of facility works for almost every kind of vaccine, do we think there would be interest in constructing the facilities as a speculative venture? Consider:

1. The economy is in chaos and may remain so, which I expect to produce unusually affordable access to design firms, construction crews, raw materials, and land.

2. There will be a strong incentive for regulators/inspectors to move with best speed, and the current administration at least in the US has a track record of being friendly to shortcuts.

3. If the facilities are already built, this allows a limit to the risk the companies producing the vaccines need to absorb in order to increase supply.

4. We could squeeze out unscrupulous opportunists.

Comment by ryan_b on Ways that China is surpassing the US · 2020-03-12T21:36:45.994Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My model for this is that China is achieving success largely by ignoring externalities. Environmental pollution is a prime example, like in the case of their previous recycling policy and mining of rare earth minerals. It is actually against the law for the US to build as quickly or as cheaply as China, but this is reasonably motivated by trying to account for things like pollution and safety, and avoiding things like resettling entire towns.

Chinese success looks a lot like the WWII and postwar years in the US, and for much the same reasons.

Comment by ryan_b on Cortés, Pizarro, and Afonso as Precedents for Takeover · 2020-03-07T17:40:54.428Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
because why was it that the conquistadors were able to exploit the locals and not the other way around?

Have you considered the possibility that it was a case of mutual exploitation? The Aztec allies of the conquistadors weren't there out of the goodness of their hearts; they had found a new angle that would help them defeat Tenochtitlan. They lost the post-victory power struggle, but it was always going to be someone.

Comment by ryan_b on Have epistemic conditions always been this bad? · 2020-02-10T19:41:20.948Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
You make good points here. Any ideas why those other shifts happened and how can we help reverse them or prevent them from happening elsewhere?

Mostly it looks to me like a series of unrelated changes built up over time, and the unintended consequences were mostly adverse.

An example is the War on Cancer and the changes that came with it to funding. It had long been the case that funding was mostly handed out on a project-by-project basis, but in order to get the funding dedicated to cancer research it was necessary to explain how cancer research would benefit. The obvious first-order impact is an increase in administrative overhead for getting the money.

Alongside this science sort of professionalized. I expect that when the sense of how important something is permeates, professionalization is viewed as a natural consequence, but it seems to have misfired here. Professionalization, like other forms of labor organization, isn't about maximizing anything but about ensuring a minimum. This means things like more metrics, which is why our civilization formally prefers a lot of crappy scientific papers to a few good ones, and doesn't want any kind of non-paper presentation of scientific progress at all. Science jobs become subject to Goodharting, because people start thinking that the right way to get more science is just to increase the number of scientists, on account of them all being interchangeable professionals with a reliable minimum output.

The university environment also got leaned on as a lever for progress; the student loan programs all grew over this same period, which seems to have driven a long period of competition for headcount. This shifted universities' priorities from executing their nominal mission towards signalling desirability among students/parents/etc. I am certain at least part of that came at the expense of faculty, even if only by increasing the administrative burden still further by yet more metrics.

On the fixing side, I am actually pretty optimistic. A few simple things would probably help a lot, two examples being funding and organization. Example: Bell Labs and Xerox PARC have been discussed here a lot. Both cases deviated significantly from the standard university/government system of funding individual projects case by case. Under the project/grant system being a scientist reduces to being able to successfully get funding for a series of projects over time. At Bell and at PARC, they rather made long-term investments on a person-by-person basis. I think this has wide-ranging effects, but not least among them is that there wasn't a lot of administrative overhead to a given investigation; rather they could all be picked up, put down, or adapted as needed. Another effect, maybe intentional but seemingly happenstance, is that they built a community of researchers in the colloquial sense. This is pretty different from the formal employee relationships that dominate now. Around 7 years ago I listened to a recruiting pitch from Sandia National Laboratories for engineering students, and asked how communication was between different groups in the lab. The representative said that she knew of a case where two labs right across the hall from each other were investigating the same thing for over a year before they realized it, because nobody talks.

This suggests to me that a university that was struggling financially, or maybe just needed to take a gamble on moving up in the world, could cheaply implement what appears to be a superior research-producing apparatus, just by shifting their methods of funding and tracking results.

Comment by ryan_b on ryan_b's Shortform · 2020-02-06T17:56:33.320Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Are math proofs useful at all for writing better algorithms? I saw on Reddit recently that they proved Batchelor's Law in 3D, the core idea of which seems to be using stochastic assumptions to prove it cannot be violated. The Quanta article does not seem to contain a link to the paper, which is weird.

Batchelor's Law is the experimentally-observed fact that turbulence occurs at a specific ratio across scales, which is to say when you zoom in on a small chunk of the turbulence it looks remarkably like all of the turbulence, and so on. Something something fractals something.

Looking up the relationship between proofs and algorithms mostly goes to proofs about specific algorithms, and sometimes using algorithms as a form of proof; but what I am after is whether a pure-math proof like the above one can be mined for useful information about how to build an algorithm in the first place. I have read elsewhere that algorithmic efficiency is about problem information, and this makes intuitive sense to me; but what kind of information am I really getting out of mathematical proofs, assuming I can understand them?

I don't suppose there's a list somewhere that handily matches tricks for proving things in mathematics to tricks for constructing algorithms in computer science?

Comment by ryan_b on Have epistemic conditions always been this bad? · 2020-02-05T17:44:07.694Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oops! Fixed.

Comment by ryan_b on Have epistemic conditions always been this bad? · 2020-02-04T16:03:59.807Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
We're not seeing academia defend itself like that today. I'm not sure if the norms decayed over time, or current political forces are stronger than in the past, but neither is good news.

This is a crux of the issue, in my view. It's worth considering that this isn't happening in independently of other major developments in academia: since 1950 we saw the development of publish or perish culture, a shift towards administrative activities at the expense of instruction and research, and most recently the replication crisis. The great shock of the replication crisis to me was that there was a group of scientists who sincerely believed that replication was not important. That is such a fundamental part of the story of science that even laypeople know about it. I would be extremely surprised if that decay was not at least mirrored in things like principles of political noninterference. STEM is vulnerable to political takeover because the time STEM professors spend defending the spirit of free inquiry is time taken away from churning out the next paper and writing grant applications, just like everyone else.

(unless we figure out how to make sure such norms are strong enough and stay strong enough)

I think this is the mechanism by which movements fade. In order for a norm to work, people have to make continuous, active investments in it. This mostly means doing things that reflect them, spending money on them, or taking time to advocate for them specifically.

Out of curiosity, what do you think the specific harms are from how the left will administer universities? From the example you cited for STEM fields, it looks to me like two things: 1) systematically take a hit on the talent-level of its professors (in their areas of expertise); 2) they will redirect some fraction of research dollars in every field to diversity and inclusion. From my other exposure to the rhetoric, I suspect they will cripple genetics research, which is indeed a big deal and also reminiscent of Communism.

Comment by ryan_b on Have epistemic conditions always been this bad? · 2020-02-03T22:28:45.199Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly - you are doing a great job of pointing out areas where I have a lot of implicit assumptions, and having to articulate them is useful all by itself, so I'm getting a lot out of this too.

What are you referring to here? Red Scares?

In general any large cultural movement, so while I am including the Red Scares I am also including things like Civil Rights and the Labor Movement. Also, I implicitly count the total cost, so the cost of both the movement's activity and also the responses to it are included. I read a review of Days of Rage, which I came to through the SlateStarCodex review of Ages of Discord; the scale of conflict there was prodigious, with hundreds of bombings and a high rate of police assassination. Rolling back earlier to the time of the first Red Scare, in 1921 the Battle of Blair Mountain was fought, with ~10,000 miners and unionists on one side and ~3,000 lawmen and strike breakers on the other, armed with machine guns and aircraft (early ones, mind you). The President had to call in the Army. These are things which we muddled through, and which also had a high human cost, which we have collectively since forgotten.

Do you agree that if the conditions of the 90s-00s had continued, the outlook on x-risks would be significantly better?

I am not sure that I do. I see that the infrastructure and community surrounding x-risks have done very will during the 2010s, and I'm not familiar with any significant setbacks driven by social justice. The most important thing of which I am aware is the sense that the Bay Area is not a friendly space for inquiry anymore, but that mostly seems to imply that expanding the x-risk institutions there will be less profitable. If we were to constrain ourselves to conditions in California, then I would probably agree.

Why doesn't it include local government?

The short answer is because that isn't where it originated. My model for how this works is basically imperial: the center of gravity for a cultural movement is like the core for imperial conquest; they use the strength of the core to subjugate neighboring territories (although here we are talking about infiltrating institutions). Social justice started on the internet and universities, and then got onto k-12 school boards and into city councils. The concrete implication of this is that if social justice withers on the internet and in universities, I expect it will subsequently vanish from school boards and city councils; because local government is not the base of power, they won't be able to push further from there. It does not seem to me that education without a research component or local government have the kind of signalling incentives that social justice needs to thrive internally. I think this is insulation from results: k-12 is all about test results, and local government has to deal with water and garbage collection and other practical things.

It used to take institutional-grade violence to silence dissent on a large scale, but social media (with its threat of career destruction) now serves that role

This is a good point; in my cultural empire model it also has the effect of making virtually all institutions adjacent institutions. As a consequence, there's lots of places we can expect social justice not to catch on, but very few insulated from it completely.

I don't think we've seen anything recently embed into our institutional structures in a way similar

This is another good point. My immediate thought is that I have trouble distinguishing social justice from any other form of fad in the areas it has occupied: why would making all the boys swear oaths against hitting women during an assembly be stickier than an assembly warning them of the dangers of satanic cults? How would changing the language we use to write test questions so that it includes trans people be different from making sure we don't refer to animals the kids might not have seen in their local environment? So far we aren't looking at the kind of things that change how institutions have to operate, like court precedents or constitutional amendments. The test I want to use for this looks something like "have they made any changes such that if the people within the institution did not know about social justice, the aims of social justice would still be advanced."

Of course I earlier predicted that the movement would continue to grow, so there is nothing that prohibits them from achieving such a thing in my view.

Again this assumes that the new ideology needs to be enforced by force, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I don't need any such assumption. The question is more basic to my mind: why would anyone listen in the first place? Consider: if people were already engaged with a satisfactory ideology, what purchase could social justice gain with them? The decay of the old order here means of old ideas: politics should be separate from work; the correct way to address racism is color blindness; our institutions are effective; salvation lies in the next world, etc. If there was something people believed and were motivated by, they wouldn't be susceptible to new ideological influences. The positive implication of this is that successfully reinforcing the old ideas or providing a different new ideology should have an immunizing effect. The negative implication of that is you can't just gin something like that up for the purposes of memetic vaccination.

The ideological indoctrination (which reminds me of what I received myself in Communist China) is moving wholesale into K-12 education so people can't escape it by avoiding universities anyway

I feel like an important contextual detail is the total saturation effect in Communist China. In that case the indoctrination was pretty consistent because it was reinforced via propaganda through most communication channels, like news and entertainment. The left cannot even achieve that on the internet, so while I can agree that what is happening is indoctrination, my estimation of its effectiveness is very low. There is no mechanism to prevent access to contradictory information.

It has already taken over all of humanities and social sciences, and is now moving into STEM fields

Yes, but consider the causal mechanisms. It had to start somewhere; why didn't it fail and how did it expand elsewhere? Every new institution and department required someone getting in and then deciding to use the procedures and powers of that institution to bring in like-minded people, and discourage not-like-minded people. Where were the strong norms to prevent this?

Ours are straightforward: politics is the mindkiller; report your true concern; explain your reasoning. I put it to you the reason we have not been swept up in this is because we are continuously, positively investing in something else, and that something else pays off. Circling back to the decay-of-ideas notion, this is very different from the kind of passive acknowledgement that passes for norms in large institutions or the low-dimensional concerns of really tiny ones like knitting circles, to say nothing of places in the grip of disillusionment.

Comment by ryan_b on Book Review: Human Compatible · 2020-01-31T19:15:33.954Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Excellent review. I am likely to buy and read the book.

In the extreme and weird scenarios the basic pitch is that when we separate the mechanism from the objective, bad things can happen, like hypno-drones telling people to buy paperclips. It feels like we should employ the same basic trick when evaluating the current things people are worried about, like deepfakes.

Deepfaked videos aren't a meaningful threat because video just isn't that important. But what if we could deepfake medicine? According to a WHO article from 2010, counterfeit medicine was worth ~$75B/yr then. That seems plenty big enough to merit throwing similar ML techniques at designing a pill with no active ingredient but that passed various kinds of basic tests for whether a medication is genuine.

The problem with deepfakes isn't that there are fake videos, it is that we are on track for a general and reliable method of fakery.

Comment by ryan_b on Have epistemic conditions always been this bad? · 2020-01-31T16:37:15.919Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The cost was bad before, too. We simply forgot, because it is our collective nature to forget. It is worth remembering that this community is at the vanguard of x-risk concern; no major cultural movement is likely to take into account new x-risks.

I agree that that centers of gravity is the more important feature; it is also what gives me confidence that it cannot get as bad as religion used to be. The most important factor is that because the center of gravity for social justice doesn't include local or federal government they won't control law enforcement or the military. This means that they won't be able to deploy systematic, institutional-grade violence against their enemies, which is what was involved in the worst damage done under Communism or religion and was further core to retaining their position.

The second thing that gives me confidence it won't get as bad as religion or Communism is that the institutional changes involved in moving away from those things remain in place. I believe in both cases the theme of the changes can be reduced to "decentralization" although it is worth pointing out this looked very different between them; but the mechanism is that their dominion failed when they weren't able to maintain control over all centers of power.

There are two other smaller points that color my perceptions. The first and simplest is that I have a general sense that culture changes faster now than it did previously; the whole start-grow-wither cycle seems to be accelerated on the strength of cheap and ubiquitous communication ability. This weighs against any sort of movement lasting even as long as decades, never mind centuries. The second is that when we look at the circumstances of religion and Communism coming to power, what I see is that it requires the decay or collapse of the previous order. Specific examples are that the collapse of the Western Roman Empire was a prerequisite for the dominion of the Catholic Church, and the decay of Russia under the Romanovs was a prerequisite for the Bolshevik Revolution.

I feel like the second point is already at work in the case of universities: a huge swath of the population no longer holds them in any esteem; even people who attend them are irritated about the cost and their failure to deliver on nominal promises; many of them are going bankrupt and closing their doors. In this model, social justice taking over the English department isn't because social justice has a Cunning Plan to Rule the World, but because the English department had long since abandoned any pretense of doing something productive or useful; they were simply working in little corners of their academic discipline, never mind the outside world. There was no real opposition because nobody cared; few people noticed; it didn't matter.

Comment by ryan_b on Have epistemic conditions always been this bad? · 2020-01-30T16:45:46.229Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The specific example I was thinking of was Dalton Trumbo. Now to be clear, he was in fact a Communist sympathizer and member of the Communist Party.

But the thing that brought him to the attention of the blacklisters and HUAC, as I understand the sequence of events, was his support of the 1945 Black Friday strike. In 1946 he was fingered as a Communist and blacklisted, and in 1947 summoned to HUAC because he was on the blacklist. Although reviewing the Wikipedia article I see that he reported Nazi sympathizers to the FBI in 1941 or 42; it is possible that this caused him to be prioritized for coming before Congress, though it isn't mentioned specifically.

Re: Communists have bad epistemics: in general the criticism is correct, the problem is that it isn't exclusive to communism. Political parties in general are doctrinal organizations that communicate by propaganda, communists are just more aggressive (worse) about it. I see a twofold problem with blacklisting them: one, it doesn't follow that because the communists have terrible epistemics that the people who are blacklisting them have good epistemics (the blacklist is based on the beliefs of the MPAA or Congress); two, we have a strong meta-reason for tolerating bad epistemics, which is to ensure we allow for good epistemics. This is because the enforcement mechanisms are orthogonal to values, so the same thing that muzzles the Communists can also muzzle the Democrats and Republicans. I firmly expect all such mechanisms to be used by every group with access to them, so I want them kept to a minimum.

Re: intensity: I should have been more clear here, I apologize. The underlying intuition is that these movements are things which start, grow, peak, and then wither; the reason I was talking about the different centers of gravity and whether the concern had a real basis or not is because I think these are important variables in where the peak is. The more powerful the institutions where they are centered, and the more real the basis of their concern, the higher I expect the peak power of the movement to be. So I think we are at about Satanic Panic levels of intensity now, but I think the social justice movement has a higher potential peak because "universities and the internet" is a more powerful base, and prejudice is a more realistic concern. From the perspective of your concerns, I expect things to get worse.

Edit: I expect things to get worse before they get better, which is to say I expect we will muddle through this like we did the rest.

Comment by ryan_b on Have epistemic conditions always been this bad? · 2020-01-30T01:37:03.978Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think you have lost the thread here. We are talking about different degrees of *bad epistemics* - nowhere did we suddenly shift gears into saying this is actually secretly good epistemics.

Communists were real and a threat, but it remained bad epistemics to for Congress to form a committee whose function was blacklist people from working in television for supporting labor unions.

Devil worshippers, by contrast, were not: there were *literally zero* groups of devil worshippers undertaking child sacrifice. Censorship and police investigations were being driven by utter fiction. This was a thing happening in the 1980s that was in no epistemic sense different from the Salem Witch Trials.

Racial/sexual/religious oppression are real and were formal government policy during my parent’s childhood, but it remains bad epistemics to insist that every restaurant have 26 bathrooms to accommodate some list of sexual identities.

This then is our continuum of badness. Social justice is clearly north of Satanic Panic, but will also clearly never form a House Unawoken Activites committee to blacklist Curtis Yarvin from working in tech.

Comment by ryan_b on Funding Long Shots · 2020-01-29T20:51:44.547Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can do. I thought about anchoring the idea on the much-more-familiar Y Combinator paradigm; do you think that would be helpful, or do you think it would be better to stick to a contained summary?

Comment by ryan_b on Funding Long Shots · 2020-01-29T20:08:45.744Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Something like an ETF open to anyone with an investment account is the idea, but I have seen one of the authors pitch such a mechanism specifically for pharmaceuticals and in that case they said the resulting instruments would be prime targets for index and retirement funds. So I infer the target is regular institutional investors, including investment banks and hedge funds, rather than individuals like you or I.

This is definitely a devil in the details problem. Expanding on the specific pharmaceutical pitch I saw, for comparison with the cancer example: pharmaceuticals have also seen a lot of funding, but in fact there is less overall research being done; fewer drugs are even put forward through the process then previously. Most drug discoveries do not even start it. This is because only the ones that make it all the way through the process are profitable, so all of the development money has to go to the few best-chance drugs (as the company estimates it).

The way they say that their funding method solves this problem is because FDA approval has phases; so what they do instead is put a bunch of drug patents together in a bundle (like the mortgage backed securities), and then once that bundle goes through Phase 1 the survivors are re-bundled for Phase 2, and again for Phase 3. As a result, all the drugs get pushed as far as they can go. This makes a certain adjustment of the industry more feasible as well. Currently the pharmaceutical company must be the whole pipeline to capture any value, and it is hard to succeed as a research lab that just produces drug discoveries because any individual drug is so unlikely to pay out. Under the research backed security system they would be able to sell their discoveries into a bundle (or as a bundle) because there is a Phase 1 payout that is faster and more predictable. This is analogous to how mortgage companies do not collect mortgage payments, they create the mortgage and then sell the mortgage on.

Comment by ryan_b on Have epistemic conditions always been this bad? · 2020-01-29T19:37:47.165Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's what the KKK is, along with a handful of other neo-nazi and white supremacy groups. This article from Politico does a pretty good job of describing when when they turned into a loose network instead of a bunch of isolated groups in the wake of the Greensboro Massacre.

Comment by ryan_b on Have epistemic conditions always been this bad? · 2020-01-28T18:00:01.459Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I think it was comparably serious, although because the landscape was different the consequences were also different; in general I expect modern events to be higher variance.

The first similarity is the primacy of cultural products, in particular media and the arts. This was the period when there was a concerted effort to destroy the fantasy genre, and pressure was brought to bear to cancel tv shows and concerts which were deemed too occult.

The influence on academia was negligible as far as I can tell, but I suggest taking another look at government: among other things it seriously distorted a fraction of the justice system because it became common for the public to worry about whether there was a satanic cult present, which diverted resources into investigating things that weren't there (like cults) or focused attention on suspects for nonsensical reasons like whether they owned metal albums. This was also the same period that gave us the modern system of censorship, like film ratings, adult content warning stickers on CDs, etc. While censorship wasn't driven solely by the panic, the people swept up in it did work hard to capitalize on these mechanisms to further their aims.

I find it helps to view this kind of cultural event from the perspective of the institutions that make up its center of gravity. For example, one way to make sense of the differences between these movements is that the Red Scare was centered on the federal government and national media outlets; the Satanic Panic was centered on local churches and local government institutions like law enforcement, schools, and libraries; and the social justice movement is centered on universities and the internet.

That being said, your point about communism being a real thing that made sense to be concerned about is a good one: there never was a nation-spanning web of devil-worshipping cults that conducted ritual murder and sought to brainwash the youth of America. By contrast there is a nation-spanning network of terrorist organizations that target minorities/homosexuals/etc, so the social justice movement has more real concerns to work with. On that basis I expect its peak to be closer to Red Scare territory, though probably still short because I have a hard time seeing the federal government deciding it has an existential stake in the outcome.

Comment by ryan_b on Have epistemic conditions always been this bad? · 2020-01-27T15:39:42.048Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Epistemic conditions have been this bad (or worse) for as long as we have had the bandwidth to think outside of physical necessity. Coordinating to implement bad epistemology has been this bad before in the US, but usually isn't.

The salient examples, and speaking to your does-this-exist-on-the-right question, are the Red Scares. There we see many of the same mechanisms at work, in particular the influence of political affiliation on employment.

You can also consider the Satanic Panic of the 1980s the same kind of problem, and probably a better match because it too was bottom up and lacked the coordinating government interest that is usually a factor in a Red Scare.

From where I sit it looks like we are at Satanic Panic levels of intensity, but well short of McCarthyism.

Comment by ryan_b on Terms & literature for purposely lossy communication · 2020-01-22T18:01:09.758Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are we thinking from the transmitter end, the receiver end, or doesn't it matter? The obvious answer seems to me to be filters, specifically a band-pass filter.

Comment by ryan_b on Toward a New Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation · 2020-01-17T19:35:11.970Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I do not understand Logical Induction, and I especially don't understand the relationship between it and updating on evidence. I feel like I keep viewing Bayes as a procedure separate from the agent, and then trying to slide LI into that same slot, and it fails because at least LI and probably Bayes are wrongly viewed that way.

But this post is what I leaned on to shift from an utter-darkness understanding of LI to a heavy-fog one, and re-reading it has been very useful in that regard. Since I am otherwise not a person who would be expected to understand it, I think this speaks very well of the post in general and of its importance to the conversation surrounding LI.

This also is a good example of the norm of multiple levels of explanation: in my lay opinion a good intellectual pipeline needs explanation stretching from intuition through formalism, and this is such a post on one of the most important developments here.

Comment by ryan_b on A voting theory primer for rationalists · 2020-01-16T23:02:48.959Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Congratulations on finishing your doctorate! I'm very much looking forward to the next post in the sequence on multi-winner methods, and I'm especially the metric you mention.