EA involves working together remotely a lot. Tools exist to make this experience better, but they may be underused. 

In particular, we're trying to do truth seeking. It's easier to do that when it's easy to explain your view, understand others', and quickly see agreements, disagreements and cruxes. In addition, taking some time to lay out your model clearly is probably good for your own thinking and understanding. 

This sequence will introduce tools for doing that, alongside tutorials & guidance.  Each day's post will also have a challenge you can use the tool to solve, to get a feel for the tool and see if it's for you. 

We’ll also be running a short session each day in the EA GatherTown; if you want to try the tools as part of a group, make sure to come along!

Why do this?

EA involves a lot of collaborating, often remotely, and in particular communicating complex models or concepts. 

There are a lot of software tools available to help with this, but they don't seem to be used as often as they could be, or as broadly. Often, when tutorials exist, they're poorly written and/or not targeted at the way EAs would likely be using this tool.

This project has 3 key goals:

  1. Increase the use of collaborative truth-seeking tools (so EAs can find truth better together)
  2. Improve how EAs are using these tools (by introducing them to the key features quickly)
  3. Save EAs time (searching for tutorials or looking through poorly-written documentation)

What is it?

I've collated tutorials (where they exist) and written or recorded them (where they don't) which I think are useful for EAs. There'll be a forum post each day for the next 7 week days, each consisting of video and text tutorials for either one complex tool or a handful of smaller tools. 

Sometimes posts will consist primarily of links elsewhere, if good tutorials already exist. To help people find tools which might be useful for a given project, there's also a wiki page with short summaries of tools. 

Here are the posts in this sequence:

  • Guesstimate: Why and How to Use it
  • Visualisation of Probability Mass
  • Squiggle: Why and How to Use it
  • Loom: Why and How to Use it
  • Excalidraw: Why and How to Use it
  • Forecasting tools and Prediction Markets: Why and How
  • Polis: Why and How to Use it

(The specific tools were chosen via Chana generating many possibilities from friends, Twitter and her own use, then asking for feedback on an epistemics slack, and primarily picking the most easy-to-use-seeming ones in each category.)

What kinds of tasks are we talking about?

To make this a little more concrete than 'collaborative truth seeking', here are some examples of tasks EAs might want to do which could benefit from the use of one of these tools:

  • Get feedback on your model of the impact of a grant to provide malaria bed nets (guesstimate)
  • Summarise a forum post visually (excalidraw)
  • Summarise a forum post in video form (loom)
  • View an aggregate prediction for when we might expect AGI before deciding which area of AI to work in, and how (metaculus)
  • Compare theories of what kinds of interventions might be useful to reduce biorisk (excalidraw, guesstimate)
  • Calculate the expected value of trialling meditating for 2 weeks (guesstimate)
  • Estimate the success of an ongoing project providing access to birth control for monitoring and evaluation (squiggle)
  • Record a 3 minute video summarising your progress instead of having an hour-long meeting with your supervisor (loom)
  • Learn to quantitatively forecast with a short feedback loop (pastcasting)


So, if you've tried to do tasks of this nature, keep an eye out! Tomorrow: Guesstimate, a tool for quantifying intuitions. 

As a final request, we’d also really appreciate any feedback you have about the tools or the posts, or if you have any suggestions for tools you think deserve to have posts made about them!


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7 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:21 PM

Love this idea!

I wanted to improve the topic page, but wasn't sure what its best use is, though tutorials / forum posts on each one like you are doing are a great addition.

There are a couple of sites I think could be useful to have tutorials on:
- https://observablehq.com/ which is kind of like guesstimate but with more visualisations. You can build models, simulate them, and then tweak the model parameters and re-run. Here's an example.
- https://insightmaker.com/ similar to Observable, note the 'Simulate' button in the top right corner in this example.
- https://www.kialo.com/ which is like Polis
- https://poller.io/ which I think is easier to use than Vodle

And then there are a bunch of other tools for things which aren't mentioned in the Topic page but which I still think can be used for collaborative truth seeking, like:
- Mindmaps
  - https://markmap.js.org/repl
- Data visualisations
  - https://www.datawrapper.de/
- Back of the envelope calculations (BOTEC)
  - https://numbr.dev/ 
  - https://cruncher.io/
  - https://bbodi.github.io/notecalc3/
- Writing arguments
  - https://argdown.org/
- Brainstorming
  - https://www.mindwendel.com/
- Storytelling
  - https://timelinestoryteller.com/

Very happy to chat more!

These look great, thanks for suggesting them! Would you be interested in writing tutorials for some/all of them that I could add to the sequence? If not, I think updating the topic page with links to tutorials you think are good would also be great!

I am looking forward to this! I have used a bunch of these tools before but have long suspected that they could be used much more effectively. 

Any feedback you have as we go would be much appreciated! I've focussed on broadening use, so I'm hoping a good chunk of the value will be in new ways to use the tools as much as anything else-- if you have any ways you think are missing they would also be great!

What time will the gathertown sessions be, in which time zone?

You might be interested in parevo.org, a web app that facilitates the collaborative exploration of alternative futures. Usi g a social version of the evolutionaryalgorithm the process generates a branching structure of narratives. This is followed by a participatory evaluation stage, assessing the alternative storylines.