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I am not under any non-disparagement obligations to OpenAI.

It is important to me that people know this, so that they can trust any future policy analysis or opinions I offer.

I have no further comments at this time.

Pretty wild discussion in this podcast about how aggressively the USSR cut corners on safety in their space program in order to stay ahead of the US. In the author's telling of the history, this was in large part because Khrushchev wanted to rack up as many "firsts" (e.g., first satellite, first woman in space) as possible. This seems like it was most proximately for prestige and propaganda rather than any immediate strategic or technological benefit (though of course the space program did eventually produce such bigger benefits).

Evidence of the following claim for AI: people may not need a reason to cut corners on safety because the material benefits are so high. They may do so just because of the prestige and glory of being first.

https://www.lawfaremedia.org/article/chatter--the-harrowing-history-of-the-soviet-space-program-with-john-strausbaugh

Though the costs are also low, from the perspective of Khrushchev. (A few cosmonauts' lives is presumably not that important to him)

Yeah fair, should have considered that more duh

I'm glad I was helpful! :P 

I'd find anecdotes about cutting corners in bioweapons or nuclear (both weapons development and power) more convincing, partially because it's more directly analogous and partially because I don't think Khrushchev is completely heartless.

I might be mistaken about this, but I thought there was a possibility that Khrushchev and others anticipated that leaders and influential people in the US/USSR and elsewhere in the world would interpret space race victories as a costly signal of strategic space superiority (while simultaneously being less aggressive and less disruptive to diplomacy than developing and testing more directly military-related technology such as Starfish Prime), and separately there was a possibility that this anticipation was a correct prediction about what stakeholders around the world would conclude about the relative power of the US and USSR (including the third world and "allied" countries which often contained hawk and dove factions and regime change etc).

Momentum behind the space race itself had died out by 1975, possibly as part of the trend described in the 2003 paper "The Nuclear Taboo" which argued that a strong norm against nuclear weapon use developed over time; during the Korean War in 1950, American generals were friendly towards the idea of using nuclear weapons to break the stalemate and ultimately decided not to, but were substantially less friendly towards nuclear weapon use by the time the Vietnam War started and since then have only considered it progressively more unthinkable (the early phases of the Ukraine War in 2022, particularly the period leading up to the invasion, might have been an example of backsliding).

Example: They crammed three cosmonauts into a capsule initially designed for one person. But due to the size constraints, the cosmonauts couldn't wear proper spacesuits; they had to wear leisure suits!

Longtermist shower thought: what if we had a campaign to install Far-UVC in poultry farms? Seems like it could:

  1. Reduce a bunch of diseases in the birds, which is good for: a. the birds’ welfare; b. the workers’ welfare; c. Therefore maybe the farmers’ bottom line?; d. Preventing/suppressing human pandemics (eg avian flu)
  2. Would hopefully drive down the cost curve of Far-UVC
  3. May also generate safety data in chickens, which could be helpful for derisking it for humans

Insofar as one of the main obstacles is humans' concerns for health effects, this would at least only raise these for a small group of workers.

I think 1 unfortunately ends up not being true in the intensive farming case. Lots of things are spread by close enough contact that even intense uvc wouldn't do much (and it would be really expensive)

I had a similar thought a (few) year (s) ago and emailed a couple of people to sanity check the idea - all the experts I asked seemed to think this wouldn't be an effective thing to do (which is why I didn't do any more work on it). I think Alex's points are true (mostly the cost part - I think you could get high enough intensity for it to be effective).

Wouldn't lots of infections even for flu happen through e.g. faeces or such? If the birds are densely packed it might be hard to achieve much with UVC from the ceiling.

Also, about the idea of this being eventually transferable to humans, I wonder if birds have different sensitivity to it (due to being covered in feathers).

Good shower thought! A few people have come to this idea independently for swine CAFOs.

There are a fair number of important "production-limiting diseases" in swine that are primarily spread via respiratory transmission, so this seems to me like a plausible win-win-win (as you've described).

This is all very "shower thought" level on my side as well, and I'd be keen for someone to think this through in more depth. Very happy to talk it through with anyone considering a more thorough investigation!

(Note my understanding is influenza is primarily a gastrointestinal illness in poultry, so I don't think this intervention is as promising in that context.)

Quote from VC Josh Wolfe:

Biology. We will see an AWS moment where instead of you having to be a biotech firm that opens your own wet lab or moves into Alexandria Real Estate, which is you know, specializes in hosting biotech companies, in in all these different regions approximate to academic research centers. You will be able to just take your experiment and upload it to the cloud where there are cloud-based robotic labs. We funded some of these. There's one company called Stratios.

There's a ton that are gonna come on wave, and this is exciting because you can be a scientist on the beach in the Bahamas, pull up your iPad, run an experiment. The robots are performing 90% of the activity of Pouring something from a beaker into another, running a centrifuge, and then the data that comes off of that.

And this is the really cool part. Then the robot and the machines will actually say to you, “Hey, do you want to run this experiment but change these 4 parameters or these variables?” And you just click a button “yes” as though it's reverse prompting you, and then you run another experiment. So the implication here is that the boost in productivity for science, for generation of truth, of new information, of new knowledge, That to me is the most exciting thing. And the companies that capture that, forget about the societal dividend, I think are gonna make a lot of money.

https://overcast.fm/+5AWO95pnw/46:15

I realize that the idea of cloud labs is not new. I just think that this particular quote is so obviously scary that it could be rhetorically useful.

People sometimes worry that the decrease in companies going public (arguably due to greater securities regulations) will drive down the expected return for public investors as compared to private ones. But it seems like public investors can still get decent exposure to private markets through publicly traded private equity and BDCs.

Maybe an actionable takeaway is to overweight those companies in one's portfolio, to account for the private returns you don't have access to.

Really interesting. There are diversified private equity ETFs (also for BDCs). This has outperformed the market slightly (4.4% annualized return vs. 3.8% for their benchmark S&P index), but I guess because you're then doing active investing as you move away from the global market portfolio and taking higher risk. Seems to violate the efficient market hypothesis that there should be a free lunch here. I guess the difference to buying other ETFs (like a tech ETF) is that is diversified across industries and in a way it's own asset class. In other words, depending on your level of risk aversion you can skew your portfolio towards bonds, stocks, and private equity, and now also with the advent of crypto ETFs, that connect the crypto 'asset class' to the stock market, you can determine your level of risk, through skewing it more towards the latter categories.

Just came across this article that suggests that there's some movement in this direction generally, with Vanguard offering private equity as an investment class.

I guess because you're then doing active investing as you move away from the global market portfolio and taking higher risk.

Couldn't you argue that you're actually moving towards the "true" global market portfolio, which would include many non-publicly-traded assets? (Similar for real estate: seems plausible that people should overweight REITs in their portfolios.)

Seems to violate the efficient market hypothesis that there should be a free lunch here.

Not sure this is true if the risk is also higher.

Couldn't you argue that you're actually moving towards the "true" global market portfolio, which would include many non-publicly-traded assets? (Similar for real estate: seems plausible that people should overweight REITs in their portfolios.)

 

Because the companies included in the private equity ETF are also already represented in the global market portfolio, the percentage of the market cap / total market cap is already includes what the market believes to be the discounted future profits of all non-publicly-traded assets that the private equity (e.g. Blackstone) invested in. 

Not sure this is true if the risk is also higher.

Yes, beta (and risk) are higher and so alpha and the expected returns are higher, but that's the trade-off so there's no free lunch. It's similar to foregoing bonds and only investing in stocks in one's portfolio, but even riskier.

I think we’re talking past each other a bit. The claim isn’t that it’s directly valuable to overweight publicly traded private equity companies in one’s portfolio. Rather, the claim is that:

  1. The true global portfolio contains much more private equity than the publicly traded market. This estimates that PE is about 3.6% of the global portfolio.
  2. So ideally one’s portfolio (if you’re trying to mimic the global market portfolio) would be about 3.6% PE.
  3. But just buying an equities index fund will underwight PE as an asset class because most PE isn’t public.
  4. You can simulate the true global market portfolio by overweighting public PE if you think public PE should perform similarly to PE broadly.

Oh I see- thanks for clarifying! This is a very interesting idea, but somehow it still seems counterintuitive... by the same logic, wouldn't you also want to overexpose yourself to e.g.  publicly traded real estate because most of it isn't public?

If true, and if most passive (institutional) investors aren't sufficiently exposed to PE (or real estate), wouldn't that suggest that the market undervalues this asset class and you can beat the market by investing in it? Honest question, I haven't thought this through very well, but something still feels counterintuitive that you could create a better passive global market portfolio... 

if you think public PE should perform similarly to PE broadly.

I think this might be another big if... though also one should be surprised if there'd be a big discontinuous jump in returns when going from non-traded to traded.


 

by the same logic, wouldn't you also want to overexpose yourself to e.g. publicly traded real estate because most of it isn't public?

Yes, I think that is true as well!

If true, and if most passive (institutional) investors aren't sufficiently exposed to PE (or real estate), wouldn't that suggest that the market undervalues this asset class and you can beat the market by investing in it?

This is what I was getting at by noting that PE should also be higher beta, so the risk-adjusted returns should not be higher!

Honest question, I haven't thought this through very well, but something still feels counterintuitive that you could create a better passive global market portfolio...

Hm, very possible I am thinking about this wrong, but it's pretty intuitive to me. After all, isn't the "true" global market all investable assets, not just publicly traded assets? It's the same reason why the Nasdaq Composite is a poor stand-in for the global stock market: for a variety of reasons, it only has a certain subset of publicly traded equities, and other baskets of equities have different risk-return profiles.

I'm beginning to think that we should generally taboo "free speech" when discussing all speech regulation decisions by non-governmental actors. In my experience, people mean very different things by this, ranging from "intellectual openness should weigh heavily in private speech regulation" to "private speech regulators should mirror First Amendment principles." These have very different implications and possible justifications.

Should EAs prepare to start stockpiling N95s when the pandemic is over? There will presumably be a lot of excess capacity, so later this year it may be easier than usual to buy up a ton on N95s and store them for the next few years.

Random, time-sensitive charity idea: start a pledge drive for people who have received their COVID vaccine to contribute the cost of at least one vaccine to the COVAX facility. Unfortunately, Americans can’t directly donate to COVAX, but people from the UK can.

Such a thing now exists: https://gogiveone.org/

According to the book Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History, some early Christians sold themselves into slavery so they could donate the proceeds to the poor. Super interesting example of extreme and early ETG.

(I'm listening on audiobook so I don't have the precise page for this claim.)

(To avoid bad-faith misinterpretation: I obviously think that nobody should do the same.)

Although I've seen some people say they feel like EA is in a bit of an intellectual slump right now, I think the number of new, promising EA startups may be higher than ever. I'm thinking of some of the recent Charity Entrepreneurship incubated programs and some new animal welfare orgs like the Fish Welfare Initiative.

Interesting excerpt from a book I’m reading:

Somewhat incongruously, at the same time that private standardization was both promoting economic globalization and becoming more global, social activists concerned with the impact of globalization on the environment, on workers, and on human rights began to look to ISO's experience with management system standards as a model of how to prevent a globalization-led race to the bottom. For the activists, ISO 9000 provided a governance model for organizations concerned with social and environmental sustainability, one that actually promised their continuous improvement across the global economy. The relevant feature of the model had also helped make ISO 9000 certification such a successful business: as part of the "continuous improve-ment" that the standards demanded, ISO 9000-certified companies were expected increasingly to buy their supplies from companies that also had quality management systems in place. Adherence to this principle helped the standard spread.37 British historian Deborah Cadbury points to a precedent for this hoped-for contagious spread of higher standards in the unusual success of nineteenth-century British and American Quaker manufacturers. They followed the highest social standards of the day in their own firms, demanded similar standards of their distributors and global suppliers, and were held accountable by an active popular press eager to point out any hypocrisy on the part of these "austere men of God" who influenced "the course of the Industrial Revolution and the [pre-Thatcher-era] commercial world."

JoAnne Yates & Craig N. Murphy, Engineering Rules: Global Standard Setting since 1880 (2019) (citing Deborah Cadbury, Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers at xii (2010)).

The venerable Judge Easterbrook appears to understand harms from unaligned AI. In this excerpt, he invokes a favorite fictional example among the AI risk community:

The situation is this: Customer incurs a debt and does not pay. Creditor hires Bill Collector to dun Customer for the money. Bill Collector puts a machine on the job and repeatedly calls Cell Number, at which Customer had agreed to receive phone calls by giving his number to Creditor. The machine, called a predictive dialer, works autonomously until a human voice comes on the line. If that happens, an employee in Bill Collector's call center will join the call. But Customer no longer subscribes to Cell Number, which has been reassigned to Bystander. A human being who called Cell Number would realize that Customer was no longer the subscriber. But predictive dialers lack human intelligence and, like the buckets enchanted by the Sorcerer's Apprentice, continue until stopped by their true master.

Soppet v. Enhanced Recovery Co., LLC, 679 F.3d 637, 638–39 (7th Cir. 2012).

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