Neural program synthesis is a dangerous technology 2018-01-12T16:19:00.374Z · score: 22 (8 votes)
Arthur Chu: Jeopardy! champion through exemplary rationality 2014-02-02T08:02:13.976Z · score: 22 (23 votes)
The Ethical Status of Non-human Animals 2012-01-09T12:07:15.339Z · score: 11 (23 votes)
Sydney Less Wrong Meetup (cancelled due to lack of interest) 2011-03-03T06:21:38.636Z · score: 6 (9 votes)
Is the best charity (excluding SIAI)? 2011-02-26T13:37:40.758Z · score: 40 (39 votes)


Comment by syllogism on Neural program synthesis is a dangerous technology · 2018-01-12T21:13:56.833Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think I meant to imply that -- could you point out where I seem to be making that assumption?

Obviously there are more exploits for a computer running Windows 95 than a carefully firewalled Linux server.

Comment by syllogism on Neural program synthesis is a dangerous technology · 2018-01-12T20:15:27.960Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW


Okay, I'll paste the content in. I think you're right -- a link post is pretty much strictly worse.

Comment by syllogism on Neural program synthesis is a dangerous technology · 2018-01-12T16:21:15.431Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

First post on LW2, so apologies if I've not kept norms properly -- let me know if I should edit.

I considered doing this as a cross-post but it felt weird without rewriting, as the knowledge assumptions were all wrong --- so I decided to just link.

Comment by syllogism on Efficient Open Source · 2015-03-16T01:47:20.584Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think the Hamming advice is so great. It's akin to asking, "What are the highest salary professions? Why aren't you entering them?".

Academia is a market-place. Everyone wants high research impact, for a given expenditure of time. Some opportunities are higher-value than others, but as those opportunities appear, other researchers are going to identify them too.

So in academia, as in the economy, it's better to identify your comparative advantage --- both short-term, and long-term. You usually need to publish something quickly, so you need to know what you can do right away. But you also want to plan for the medium and long-term, too. It's a difficult trade-off.

Comment by syllogism on Learning languages efficiently. · 2014-03-04T10:35:43.130Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm interested in developing better language learning software.

For the movie case, do you think these would be helpful? Any other ideas?

  • Read in the subtitles file before viewing, so that vocab can be checked and learned via spaced repetition
  • Option to slow down the dialogue, with pitch-shifting to keep it from sounding weird and bassy
Comment by syllogism on Rationality & Low-IQ People · 2014-02-03T09:06:10.684Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You'd go pretty far just telling the audience the character was unintelligent, by giving them unintelligent status markers. Give them a blue-collar career, and very low academic achievement, while also coming from a stable family and average opportunity.

It's been a while since I watched it, but do you think Ben Affleck's character in Good Will Hunting was rational, but of limited intelligence?

There are scattered examples of this sort of "humble working man, who lives honest and true" throughout fiction.

Comment by syllogism on Arthur Chu: Jeopardy! champion through exemplary rationality · 2014-02-03T08:59:43.172Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can't say I'm impressed with his reasoning there.


Comment by syllogism on Arthur Chu: Jeopardy! champion through exemplary rationality · 2014-02-03T03:09:52.619Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't seem to me that he has that any more than ther Jeopardy! contenders.

Comment by syllogism on What are you working on? January 2014 · 2014-01-04T04:18:05.712Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In ML, everyone is engaging with the academics, and the academics are doing a great job of making that accessible, e.g. through MOOCs. ML is one of the most popular targets of "ongoing education", because it's popped up and it's a useful feather to have in your cap. It extends the range of programs you can write greatly. Many people realise that, and are doing what it takes to learn. So even if there are some rough spots in the curriculum, the learners are motivated, and the job gets done.

The cousin of language processing is computer vision. The problem we have as academics is that there is a need to communicate current best-of-breed solutions to software engineers, while we also communicate underlying principles to our students and to each other.

If you look at nltk, it's really a tool for teaching our grad students. And yet it's become a software engineering tool-of-choice, when it should never have been billed as industrial strength at all. Check out the results in my blog post:

  • NLTK POS tagger: 94% accuracy, 236s
  • My tagger: 96.8% accuracy, 12s

Both are pure Python implementations. I do no special tricks; I just keep things tight and simple, and don't pay costs from integrating into a large framework.

The problem is that the NLTK tagger is part of a complicated class hierarchy that includes a dictionary-lookup tagger, etc. These are useful systems to explain the problem to a grad student, but shouldn't be given to a software engineer who wants to get something done.

There's no reason why we can't have a software package that just gets it done. Which is why I'm writing one :). The key difference is that I'll be shipping one POS tagger, one parser, etc. The best one! If another algorithm comes out on top, I'll rip out the old one and put the current best one in.

That's the real difference between ML and NLP or computer vision. In NLP, we really really should be telling people, "just use this one". In ML, we need to describe a toolbox.

Comment by syllogism on What are you working on? January 2014 · 2014-01-02T17:18:06.895Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I'm currently a post-doc doing language technology/NLP type stuff. I'm considering quitting soon to work full time on a start-up. I'm working on three things at the moment.

  • The start-up is a language learning web app: . What sets it apart from other language-learning software is my knowledge of linguistics, proficiency with text processing, and willingness to code detailed language-specific features. Most tools want to be as language neutral as possible, which limits their scope a lot. So they tend to all have the same set of features, centred around learning basic vocab.

  • Something that's always bugged me about being an academic is, we're terrible at communicating to people outside our field. This means that whenever I see a post using an NLP tool, they're using a crap tool. So I wrote a blog post explaining a simple POS tagger that was better than the stuff in e.g. nltk (nltk is crap): The POS tagger post has gotten over 15k views (mostly from reddit), so I'm writing a follow up about a concise parser implementation. The parser is 500 lines, including the tagger, and faster and more accurate than the Stanford parser (the Stanford parser is also crap).

  • I'm doing minor revisions for a journal article on parsing conversational speech transcripts, and detecting disfluent words. The system gets good results when run on text transcripts. The goal is to allow speech recognition systems to produce better transcripts, with punctuation added, and stutters etc removed. I'm also working on a follow up paper to that one, with further experiments.

Overall the research is going well, and I find it very engaging. But I'm at the point where I have to start writing grant applications, and selling software seems like a much better expected-value bet.

Comment by syllogism on The dangers of zero and one · 2013-11-18T17:11:34.250Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I came across that idea in the Jaynes book, and was very impressed.

Comment by syllogism on The dangers of zero and one · 2013-11-17T14:25:25.427Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Denying that 100% confidence is ever rational seems to be equivalent to denying that logic ever applies to anything.

It's just saying that logic is a model that can't describe anything in the real world fully literally. That doesn't mean it's not useful. Abstracting away irrelevant details is bread and butter reductionism.

Comment by syllogism on What should normal people do? · 2013-10-28T11:45:20.514Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I have a fairly wide variety of friends. Here's some advice I find myself giving often, because it seems to cover a lot of what I think are the most common problems. The wording here isn't how I'd say it to them.

Health and lifestyle

  • Don't engage the services of any non-evidence based medical practitioner.
  • If you have a health problem, you're receiving treatment/advice, and not obviously improving, get a second opinion. And probably also a third. (I am not in the US)
  • Don't smoke cigarettes. If you already smoke cigarettes, buy an e-cigarette (like, right now), even if you're sure you'll never use it. Once you've bought it, do try to use it, even if you don't think you'll like it.
  • Always use barriers for vaginal and anal penetration outside a monogamous relationship
  • Use either barriers or hormonal birth control for p-in-v intercourse
  • If you or your partner is having non-monogamous sex, get STI tests twice a year
  • If you frequently feel depressed or anxious, see a psychologist who practices cognitive behavioural therapy. Do not see one who practices psychoanalysis (see "evidence based health care"). Expect to trial several psychologists before finding one who is a good fit for you (see: "if health care not working, seek second opinion").

Personal finance

  • Don't buy cars new. There's an established value-point for depreciation vs maintainence costs for cars. Use that.
  • Don't get a credit card
  • Don't take personal loans unless the interest is dominated by the cost of having no liquidity (e.g. eviction)
  • If you can't maintain a monthly budget, give yourself a weekly budget. If you still can't maintain a weekly budget, give yourself a daily budget. A budget over a shorter time period is much less convenient --- but failing to maintain a budget at all and going broke is less convenient still.
  • Never gamble, including playing the lottery
  • Don't invest in individual stocks, or pay someone else to invest your money in individual stocks.
  • Comply with your local tax laws, including filing your taxes on time. Know that people smarter than you are being employed to catch tax cheats who are also smarter than you. You will likely lose.


  • Avoid "winner takes all" professions, e.g. sports, music, academia in fields with no industrial application, etc
  • Judge potential careers by expected value, not best or worst possible outcome. Look at median salaries and working conditions.
  • Only enrol in tertiary/graduate education with a specific career outcome in mind
  • Recognise the true cost of tertiary degrees, in opportunity cost as well as course fees. e.g. a full-fee-paid PhD program with a modest stipend is still enormously expensive
  • Recognise that reputational capital distorts labor markets. Teachers are paid low because they're well respected, not despite being well respected. The how-do-you-do value of having a well respected career is not that enduring, so it's probably over-valued. It's better to avoid careers with excess reputational capital.
  • Consider careers in the allied health professions . These professions have the best job security: the aging population ensures rising demand, they must be performed locally, and most seem like unlikely targets for automation or disruption. They also offer lots of human contact, which many find produces good job satisfaction. But, because they don't require medical degrees, they are fairly neutral in reputational capital, so your peers don't just work themselves to death to win zero-sum positional games against you.

Law and the justice system

  • Avoid dominance contests. Learn to display submission readily, meekly and convincingly.
  • Regard police officers as people who have power over you. They do. Their power is broad, and not constrained by some set of written rules. If you challenge them to a dominance contest, you will likely lose. They will fuck you up. And even if you "win", it'll be a pyrrhic victory --- you'll still have been better off not getting into it in the first place.
  • Power is not moral authority. Someone may have real power over you, with no legitimate right to it.
  • Moral authority is not power. Even if you have the legitimate right to do something, someone may have the power to stop you.
Comment by syllogism on The Up-Goer Five Game: Explaining hard ideas with simple words · 2013-09-08T00:33:18.720Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Recent trends in my field of research, syntactic parsing

We've been trying for a long time to make computers speak and listen. Here is what has been happening with the part I work on for the last few years, or at least the part I'm excited about.

What makes understanding hard is that what you are trying to understand can mean so many different things. SO many different things. More than you think!! In fact the number grows way out of line with the number of words.

Until a few years ago, the number one idea we had was to figure out how to put together just a few words at a time. The key was not to think about too many words at once. If you do that, you can make lots of little groups, and put them together. You start at the words. You put together a few words, and get a longer bit back. Then you put together two longer bits. You work your way up, making a tree. I'll draw you a little tree.

( ( The old ) (voice ( their troubles ) ) )

If the computer has that tree, you can ask it "Who were the troubles voiced by?", and it can tell you "the old". Course, it doesn't know what "the old" are. That's just some marks to it. But it gets how to put the words together, and give back other marks that are right.

Until the last few years, we thought it was a big deal to see the whole tree before you cut out any others for sure.

Now another way's shown up. And I think the facts are almost in. I'm definitely calling it early here, probably most don't agree!!

The other way is to work your way along, from left to right. The funny thing is, that's what we do! But it's taken a while for us to get our heads around how to make it work for a computer. But now, I think we've made it better than the other way. It makes the computer right when it guesses just as much, but it's much much faster.

The problem was, if you work your way along, left to right, it's hard to be sure your guess is the best guess for the words all put together, if you can't go back and change your mind. And the computer gets lots wrong. If you let it just run, it gets something wrong, but has to move forward, and the idea it's trying to build doesn't make sense. You get to "the old voice", and your tree is the one for "the voice that is old", not "voicing is what the old are doing". And then you're stuck.

People really thought that was it for that approach. If you couldn't sort your guesses about the whole thing, how could you know you didn't just close your mind too early? People found nice ways to promise that you would see every total idea at the end, so you could pick one then.

The problem is, you see every idea, but you can only ask questions about the way small groups of words were put together, when that idea was put together. You know how I said you'd build a tree? You could only ask questions about bits next to each other.

The other way, you're building this tree as you go along, left to right. As every word comes in, you add it to your tree. So yeah okay, we do have to make our guesses, and live with them. We don't see all the different possible trees at the end. We do get locked in. But all you have to do is not get locked in totally. Keep some other trees around. It turns out we need to keep thinking about 30-60 trees. Less if we're a bit bright about it.

We've been doing good stuff this way. I write this kind of thing. My one makes the computer guess where over 9 words in 10 are in the tree, and it can do ten hundred words in a blink. It's pretty cool. That's over a hundred times faster than we could do 3 to 5 years ago.

Comment by syllogism on The Robots, AI, and Unemployment Anti-FAQ · 2013-07-28T05:06:42.582Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Why is the IQ 70 kid not able to do laundry as so many others once did earlier, if the economy is so productive - shouldn't someone be able to hire him in his area of Ricardian comparative advantage?

In addition to gwern's objections, what if his RCA price-point turns out to be, say, 50c an hour? The utility curve is not smooth. Past a point, a starvation wage is still a starvation wage. Even in a hypothetical world where there were zero welfare and no opportunities for crime, he'd be better off spending the time looking for low-probability alternatives than settling on spending 40 hours a week working for sure starvation.

Comment by syllogism on Rationality Quotes June 2013 · 2013-06-11T04:41:44.053Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to poke at this a bit, one way could be to test what sort of interferences disrupt different activities for you, compared to a friend.

I'm thinking of the bit in "Surely you're joking" where Feynman finds that he can't talk and maintain a mental counter at the same time, while a friend of his can -- because his friend's mental counter is visual.

Comment by syllogism on Rationality Quotes June 2013 · 2013-06-05T09:41:12.976Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, for me, believing myself to be a type of person I don't like causes me great cognitive dissonance. The more I know about how I might be fooling myself, the more I have to actually adjust to achieve that belief.

For instance, it used to be enough for me that I treat my in-group well. But once I understood that that was what I was doing, I wasn't satisfied with it. I now follow a utilitarian ethics that's much more materially expensive.

Comment by syllogism on Rationality Quotes June 2013 · 2013-06-04T19:04:39.494Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That could be because rationality decreases the effectiveness of distress minimisation techniques other than altruism.

Comment by syllogism on Open Thread, June 2-15, 2013 · 2013-06-04T14:57:39.691Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've been doing this wrong, and this advice will likely save me a few thousand dollars. Thanks.

Comment by syllogism on Open Thread, June 2-15, 2013 · 2013-06-03T13:16:06.547Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Do you really think 1/3rd of users named gothgirl* would be male? I'd guess something like 1-10%, compared with 1-3% transsexualism on LW:

Comment by syllogism on Open Thread, June 2-15, 2013 · 2013-06-03T12:51:06.081Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I needed fewer than 13 bits of evidence:

I likely committed some level of base-rate fallacy though (regardless of what the truth turns out to be). Trans* is more available to me because I hang out in queer communities, and know multiple transgender people.

Comment by syllogism on Open Thread, June 2-15, 2013 · 2013-06-03T09:55:50.034Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well with the username I really thought it more likely he was trans. Shrug.

Comment by syllogism on Open Thread, June 2-15, 2013 · 2013-06-03T07:48:55.373Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

am a 19 yo male (as of tomorrow)

So, are you trans?

If so, the queer clubs are a slam dunk, if you get along okay with that "type". One thing to bear in mind is, a lot of the opening chatter will be about gender and sexuality issues, which gets a little tiresome. Just accept that this is the new smalltalk for these spaces --- instead of talking about sports or what your major is, young queer kids often ask each other about coming out stories, etc. People are also trying on the role --- it's all new and unfamiliar to them, too. Many are unused to having an in-group, and overdo "tribe signalling".

I guess I'm just advising you to be wary of the fundamental attribution error in these spaces, which can make people seem very narrow.

You can also turn this around and realise that there are ways you can help people avoid making the fundamental attribution error with you, too. For instance, if you're recently transitioning, I imagine that will feel really weird for a while. It's okay to talk about that! You can excuse some of your awkwardness this way, and I expect most of the folks in these spaces will find that quite endearing.

Comment by syllogism on Optimizing for attractiveness · 2013-06-02T08:59:10.618Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Here's a piece of advice I haven't seen mentioned on this topic: people are typically irrational about sex, and you can make yourself an appealing partner to a minority of people who aren't being "well served" by the general population simply by being extra open-minded. In short, I'm going to advocate exploring kink spaces.

First, cultivate the aliefs that there is zero shame associated with consensual sexual activity of any kind, and that there is no space for sex-specific morality in your code of ethics. The slogan "everyone owns exactly one body" is a good start.

If you've got this in your head, hopefully you'll want to do just about anything your partner wants you to. The attitude to cultivate is to be "good, giving and game".

Once you've got the mind-set right and done back-ground reading, you can start looking for kink meet-ups and groups in your area. The really nice thing for you is that kinksters are basically sex nerds: everything is talked about explicitly, negotiated, scheduled, double-checked, etc. There's worlds of hand-holding at every step.

I could be just plain wrong about this, but my belief is that sexual tastes can be "acquired" in the way you can learn to like strong cheeses, silent films, whatever. So have a go at acquiring this taste --- because I think it'd prove useful.

Comment by syllogism on Optimizing for attractiveness · 2013-06-02T08:45:12.048Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

These things wash back and forth depending on associations. Hanging out on feminist parts of the internet, I see a lot of ladies rolling their eyes at the term "females" -- mostly based on the types of guys who seem to be using it.

Some say they find the term "othering", because it's a bit sterile and biological, but I think it's a mistake to say it's anything intrinsic in the word itself.

Comment by syllogism on The Centre for Applied Rationality: a year later from a (somewhat) outside perspective · 2013-06-02T05:11:14.809Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have an easy way to ensure housework is maintained to an acceptable level?

Comment by syllogism on Orwell and fictional evidence for dictatorship stability · 2013-05-24T19:25:43.860Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

People sometimes use the term despotism to refer to a system of government where there is no expectation that the ruling group (often of one) will obey a rule of law. I think that's a better way to demarcate the systems.

Comment by syllogism on General intelligence test: no domains of stupidity · 2013-05-22T05:48:56.497Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Related thought: is a conversation bot crudely optimised to game the Turing test smarter than a labrador or a dolphin?

Comment by syllogism on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-17T07:42:33.433Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's not unreasonable, but I think that a lot of the problems people have come from not even really trying to be careful.

I think selection effects explain almost all of this phenomenon. My nerdy friends don't really have trouble holding to their pre-commitments. The reckless 20 year olds I meet in bars don't even really understand the idea of pre-commitments, and the whole thing is just sort of...uncool, to them.

People don't regularly pre-commit to how much TV they'll watch, how much internet they'll surf, or how much chocolate they'll eat --- and when they do, I expect they fail often. When it comes to alcohol, two drinks becoming many is a total cliche.

Comment by syllogism on Avoiding the emergency room · 2013-05-15T05:34:39.416Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Objectivism comes with a bunch of baggage about e.g. economics and psychology that's simply untrue, empirically. For instance an objectivist would say that status seeking inhibits self-actualisation. The objectivist plan is to learn to care less about status. As I understand the evidence, this is bad advice for almost all humans, as almost nobody can self-modify to just not care about their place on the totem pole.

In a nutshell, I think objectivists live in the "should universe", and this leads to a bunch of whacky nonsense.

Comment by syllogism on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-14T14:39:51.886Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For a first time user, I recommend 60-80mg as a good dose, and I always advise people to pre-commit to not re-dosing, no matter whether the first hit feels weak or strong. I usually take 80-150mg, and I don't always follow my own advice about re-dosing. Sometimes it depends what my friends are doing.

After a camping trip where I over-indulged quite alarmingly, I noticed that I was more "pleasure seeking": I spent more time seeking sex, more time on buzzfeed and YouTube, etc. This faded after a week or two.

I found that regular marijuana use causes worse anhedonia in me. If I smoke two or three times a week for a few weeks in a row, my affect is fairly flat, and I'm quite unmotivated.

Comment by syllogism on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-12T19:38:51.023Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Definitely agree that changing your name is a good option to have on the table.

I'd note though that in some industries having a Google-unique name is king. It really depends what your "personal brand strategy" is. I remember reading an interview with a marketer who recommended people consider name changes. Her name was "Faith Popcorn". I read that single interview probably 5-10 years ago. It wasn't even a particularly interesting interview. I still remember her name, though.

Comment by syllogism on Post ridiculous munchkin ideas! · 2013-05-12T19:30:52.886Z · score: 18 (22 votes) · LW · GW

(The below is stated with no modulation for my level of confidence, which actually isn't very high.)

MDMA is a useful way to improve social skills permanently, or help make you more emotionally available.

While under the influence of it, you're very empathic, and very socially fearless. The experiences you have talking to people in this state can then transfer to when you're sober. For instance, you might notice that your openness is well-received, which lets you see that you've been under-confident.

Many people do something similar with alcohol: they learn to socialise when drunk, and that makes it easier to socialise when not drunk. I believe MDMA is better for this purpose, because it doesn't inhibit your memory at all, and you're more "yourself" than when drunk.

To get this benefit it's important to take a well-tolerated dose, and not to drink much: you don't want to be a mangled mess, or the next day you'll just be embarrassed, especially because you'll be mildly depressed from the come-down.

I've found MDMA to be quite addictive, and most users have trouble controlling their use once they are on the drug: they'll re-dose, even if they hadn't planned to, once the first dose begins to fade. So this "hack" is far from free of danger. But I believe the cost/benefit is still better than alcohol for many situations.

Comment by syllogism on May 2013 Media Thread · 2013-05-03T05:35:29.906Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ze Frank is amazing. Mostly they're funny and interesting, slightly poetic, takes on life and normality.

"Make Believe"


"Hack to power, Brian"

Comment by syllogism on May 2013 Media Thread · 2013-05-02T17:04:55.769Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ze Frank is amazing. Mostly they're funny and interesting, slightly poetic, takes on life and normality.

"Make Believe"


"Hack to power, Brian"

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-30T03:54:48.703Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Anyone who has been through high-school knows a lot of unattractive or socially undesirable men get tremendous backlash for behaviors that a desirable men get away with.

I didn't go to a coed highschool, but I imagine a lot of that backlash was status signalling, and the target of the advance wasn't genuinely aggrieved. So, that isn't just.

But factoring that out, I think it's quite right to view a guy making a bunch of unwanted advances as rather a jerk, depending on how much he makes rejecting him suck for the targets. He's generating a bunch of negative utility.

When I see guys with poor social skills complain about this, it basically amounts to saying that it's not fair. Sure --- it's not fair that looks and charm get parcelled out unevenly, but so what? You still don't get to make your problem someone else's.

It's not fair that we become more unattractive as we age, but a 70 year old man who constantly makes unwelcome advances on young women is rightly viewed with contempt.

It's not fair that gay men and women can very seldom hit on strangers with a good expected utility either. It doesn't make it okay for them to just "assume they're gay until stated otherwise", given that most people are straight.

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-30T03:29:46.771Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think making a move in an elevator is an expression of confidence. I haven't read a specific analysis of the situation from a PUA guy but I would expect them to advice against that behavior.

I think tabooing "confidence" would end up being revealing here. I suspect yours, confidence-1, would read something like "not signalling anxiety or nervousness", whereas I'm talking about confidence-2, the anticipated probability of success, which informs the expected value of an approach.

I accept responsibility for the miscommunication. In my initial post I talked about PUAs advocating "confidence", and equated that to confidence-2. You and others have pointed out that actually some or all of the advocacy is for confidence-1, which I didn't at first appreciate. I haven't read all that much PUA stuff, so I'll accept what you've said and leave it at that.

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-29T20:51:00.150Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I've always thought of this incident in terms of the calibration idea above.

The chance of his advance succeeding, given that in that context she was a celebrity and that they hadn't established any rapport, were incredibly slim. It was a total hail mary. And it was made in a context that made rejection more uncomfortable (confined space), and it was pretty directly sexual.

In short, the advance was wildly miscalibrated: it was such a stunningly bad bet, she concluded that he just didn't have her interests on the ledger at all. And that pissed her off, and I think that's thoroughly reasonable.

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-29T20:31:10.786Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

There no way to develop a well-calibrated model without making some mistakes along the way.

Would you say you were a proficient driver before you had your first car accident? We learn skills in fault intolerant contexts all the time. There's a bunch of learning theory work about Bayesian models not needing negative examples too, although I don't really think it's relevant here.

I don't think the potential downside of having to reject someone is much bigger than getting rejected.

There's two things here. First, even if that's true, the person who's doing the rejecting didn't ask to be approached. So even if the downsides are small, you're playing dice on their behalf. And if you're wrong a lot, and generate a bunch of negative utility for people who didn't sign up for any risks, I think you deserve some culpability.

As for just how bad giving out a rejection is, again, I think it really depends on the advance.

Here's the idea taken to the extreme: sometimes, waking someone up with oral sex is a very welcome advance. But you better be damn sure, because if you're wrong, you've potentially done a great deal of harm. There's a continuum of less presumptuous advances, through the press-them-against-the-wall example, to something like putting your arm out in front of them to block a door, or even just making the move in an elevator, that may make someone more or less uncomfortable if they have to reject the advance. This is the sense of "confident" that I'm talking about.

The answer isn't, "that's a consent violation and nobody should do that ever". It's that if you do do that, and you were wrong, you can't excuse yourself from culpability by claiming it was an honest mistake.

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-29T03:53:24.492Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see that as much different than doing a little "come here" sign with your finger. That's not a question, and you didn't receive verbal consent in reply. You can accomplish the same effect just by doing - approach, but don't continue without a positive response in answer.

In that specific case the verbal aspect isn't so important, no. And the big difference from the context in the advice thread is that I don't have trouble communicating my intent with the body language anyway. But it has felt once or twice that saying something, even something token, has given them more of an opportunity to say something back, and this has led to a non-awkward refusal. I'm not surprised if you find that unconvincing, it's a personal thing and pretty context-specific.

With the breasts, no, I wouldn't explicitly ask in that way. Hands go on body, hands caress slowly toward breasts. Pay attention to response. Another way is to look where you intend the hands to go, and go there. Perhaps a comment on the breasts first.

"Can I take these off?" Probably more like "Let's take these off." Which again, is more like what you generally do. You don't say "will you come here?", you say "come here".

For me it really depends on my model of what I think they want. Like, assume I'm pretty sure that there'll be a line somewhere. Obviously, the right thing to do isn't just "escalate until they give an explicit 'no' (either verbally, or by moving my hand away)". But even if you just proceed cautiously and keep gauging their response, they're likely to spend a lot of the time thinking about when/whether you're going to push past where they're comfortable, and steeling themselves to give that no when it happens. Especially with girls, most will have had more than a few negative experiences with pushy guys.

I mean, I'm not exactly timid or inexperienced, but I still hate it when a guy just grabs a condom and rips it open, if that makes me say "no".

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-29T02:32:12.988Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

That seems a comment based in ideology, and not reality. I guess there must be some women for whom that would work, but I believe most women would find that a massive cold shower - perhaps permanently. The offer and consent should be nonverbal. Going slowly and incrementally allows you to minimize any delta between act and consent.

I think this is really an imagination failure for how "verbal consent" would work. An example that includes a minor verbal component: I often smile and say something like "come here" while shifting myself around (e.g. putting my arm around him/her). We then meet half way. This works just fine.

I've had someone say something like "God! I've been trying to find a break to kiss you for the last five minutes, but we keep just having too much to say!". That was absolutely fine too.

A friend once told me he said something like, "you know what's awesome? Make outs are awesome".

I can't remember whether I've ever done something as direct as whispering "can I kiss you", but it's hard to imagine that being a deal breaker for anyone I've hooked up with.

The post that advice was in reply to made it clear that they had an ongoing thing, and that they'd already talked about having more-than-friends feelings for each other. In that kind of situation, the girl knows whether she wants to be kissed, and so it actually only matters a little bit how you get there. She's not going to change her mind about the whole thing just because the initial approach was a little bit clumsy.

Out of interest, do you have the same opinion about explicit verbal consent in other situations? Like, would you say something like, "Can I take these off?" A more specific example: The other week I was making out and cuddling with a girl, and we'd already explicitly negotiated that we wouldn't be having sex. So at some point we were spooning, and I asked "Can I touch your breasts?". She hesitated, so I said, "Ah, that's a no, don't worry". She was obviously relieved, and we continued without any problems. This sort of thing only comes up a small minority of the time, but when it does I think it's actually pretty important to verbalise things. So I'm wondering whether you have a different system, or just never find yourself needing to check in with someone that directly?

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-28T23:00:25.204Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The dichotomy breaks down a bit here, but the important property is that both parties maintain plausible deniability. An argument I've heard Steven Pinker make (but might not be originally his) is that you can avert awkwardness by avoiding the creation of shared knowledge, and that's the reason the plausible deniability is important.

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-28T21:38:14.151Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, we should respect the guess culture. Imagine a limit of askiness, where you regularly force people to be explicit about not being attracted to you, while also communicating that you very much want them to be. I think that even with different cultural norms, that communication's going to be painful for them, so it's quite right that it's considered rude to put them through it.

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-28T21:19:01.178Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Those posts are interesting and relevant, and I've had discussions about similar topics with people from different cultures.

With that framing, what I'm saying is that you want to be guessing very well, and you're violating norms in a way that costs the other party utilons if you're too "asky" --- which is what the PUA advice amounts to.

But I'd also say there's a continuum, depending on how you make the move.

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-28T20:44:40.553Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I read a lot of PUA advice as basically counselling guys like this: there's nothing to lose from an unsuccessful approach, you know that, so update your aliefs accordingly. The downside's all in your head. So, they agree guys start by worrying about freaking people out, but their line of thinking is that that doesn't actually matter. Except, that part is all tacit. I think the prominent men writing the advice are mostly very low empathy, so they don't actually understand why normal guys have that aversion.

Second, I see what you're saying, in that you don't have to be nervous while you make some well-calibrated move. But, a move that offers a graceful out is going to be less confident, too, just along a slightly different dimension. I'll get personal here: I use online dating sites, and I'm a bi male. So I make and receive advances quite regularly.

Going through my message history on a popular site that isn't exclusively about casual sex, this advance slightly irritated me, and I didn't reply:

Sydney_fella80: top or bottom?

Here's how I phrased a message with basically the same intent, to a girl who said she was on the site for NSA sex, and partially indicated her interests:


I find you quite fantastically hot, and I've always wanted to hook up with a top girl (and bottom for one, specifically). I'm pretty far from your stated type though, so no worries if you're not keen. If not, just take this as some NSA admiration.

Cheers Matt.

I gave her an easy out by raising a likely reason to decline my advance for her --- which she took, in a very friendly reply. The message was confident in the sense that it suggested that rejection wouldn't faze me, but was not confident at all about the advance succeeding --- which is conventionally considered less attractive.

Online the stakes are really low, because you can just not reply. But a differently worded advance can still make the other person feel slightly flattered, or slightly gross.

Comment by syllogism on LW Women Entries- Creepiness · 2013-04-28T19:39:10.829Z · score: 30 (36 votes) · LW · GW

Often I hear guys complain that an advance is deemed "creepy" if it's unwelcome, but not if the same thing were said or done by an attractive man. I also see a lot of emphasis on "confidence". Guys are often advised to "be more confident" in the way they approach or "escalate" with women.

The problem is, sexual advances are often gambles where the potential downsides are paid by the party approached, not by the one who does the approaching. When you think of it this way, complaining about unwanted advances is perfectly justified, and telling guys to "be more confident" is totally upside-down.

Take this example of a highly upvoted piece of advice on how a guy should try to kiss a girl for the first time:

The advice here is in general very "high risk": if the girl didn't want to be kissed and the guy grabbed her and moved in suddenly in that way, that would really suck for her. Often these types of risks are also high-reward: a welcome advance of this type is often hotter than a more timid one. Being pressed against a wall and kissed is awesome if it's welcome, and horrifying if it's not.

What's truly valuable is a well-calibrated and highly accurate model of how your advances will be received. That lets you carry off these high risk, high reward advances. But time and again I see people advocating confidence --- as though just predicting that every advance will succeed were the solution. Wishing does not make it so.

To avoid being creepy, the focus should be on keeping your model well-calibrated, and on being fairly risk averse. If you think your advance is unlikely to succeed, you either shouldn't make it in the first place, or you should be careful to give the other person a graceful way to decline.

So, in the example of kissing that girl for the first time from before, I'd be suggesting he get verbal consent. He's having trouble predicting whether she wants to be kissed from the non-verbal interaction, so he has to take the lower risk option, even though it comes with a lower reward.

This idea of a well-calibrated model is also behind my objection to a lot of PUA advice. It often sounds to me like the negative externality is "priced out". Guys are advised that they have nothing to lose from approaching a lot of women. Well, that might be so, but the women do have something to lose, even if it's only a mild discomfort, and it's totally unethical to not care about that. The fact that the downsides are external should strongly encourage risk aversion.

Comment by syllogism on Minor, perspective changing facts · 2013-04-28T16:09:34.911Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Comment by syllogism on Real-world examples of money-pumping? · 2013-04-25T16:01:50.529Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

In Australia, a mandatory 9% of your salary is paid into a super-annuation account. This money represents a loan from you to a financial institution, for which they pay you an interest rate X% per annum, once management fees etc are accounted for.

At the same time, almost all Australians take out a large loan from one of the same handful of financial institutions, with a term of much of their working life, for an interest rate of Y% per annum, and invariably Y > X. The only advantage of this arrangement to an individual is that superannuation savings are protected even in the case of bankruptcy, so the risk is attenuated. I don't know the percentage of Australians who go bankrupt, but I suspect it's quite small (we have no medical bankruptcies).

It's also fairly common for people to carry both a credit card balance at high interest, and a savings account at low interest.

I suggest that savings feel safer than debts feel risky, creating the circularity to be pumped.

Comment by syllogism on Pay other people to go vegetarian for you? · 2013-04-16T05:19:46.408Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is very frustrating. The dollar values in the post are entirely meaningless, and now the discussion here is anchored around them.

Comment by syllogism on Offer: I'll match donations to the Against Malaria Foundation · 2013-02-05T07:52:45.273Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I can definitely see the argument for that, but I think there's just too much of that going on in charity today. "I'm going to fool you for a good cause" is the justification for a lot of shoddy practices supporting what usually turn out to be pretty mediocre causes.

I think it's worth keeping a higher standard with appeals to rational charity. There's long term benefit in a complete renunciation of the dark arts.