Aaron Bergman

Working (0-5 years experience)

Bio

Participation
4

I graduated from Georgetown University in December, 2021 with degrees in economics, mathematics and a philosophy minor. There, I founded and helped to lead Georgetown Effective Altruism. Over the last few years recent years, I've interned at the Department of the Interior, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Nonlinear, a newish longtermist EA org.

I'm now doing research thanks to an EA funds grant, trying to answer hard, important EA-relevant questions. My first big project (in addition to everything listed here) was helping to generate this team Red Teaming post.

Blog: aaronbergman.net

How others can help me

  • Suggest action-relevant, tractable research ideas for me to pursue
  • Give me honest, constructive feedback on any of my work
  • Introduce me to someone I might like to know :)
  • Convince me of a better marginal use of small-dollar donations than giving to the Fish Welfare Initiative, from the perspective of a suffering-focused hedonic utilitarian.
  • Offer me a job if you think I'd be a good fit
  • Send me recommended books, podcasts, or blog posts that there's like a >25% chance a pretty-online-and-into-EA-since 2017 person like me hasn't consumed
    • Rule of thumb standard maybe like "at least as good/interesting/useful as a random 80k podcast episode"

How I can help others

  • Open to research/writing collaboration :)
  • Would be excited to work on impactful data science/analysis/visualization projects
  • Can help with writing and/or editing
  • Discuss topics I might have some knowledge of
    • like: math, economics, philosophy (esp. philosophy of mind and ethics), psychopharmacology (hobby interest), helping to run a university EA group, data science, interning at government agencies

Comments
85

At risk of jeopardizing EA's hard-won reputation of relentless internal criticism:

Even setting aside its object-level impact-relevant criteria (truth, importance, etc), this is just enormously impressive both in terms of magnitude and quality. The post itself gives us readers an anchor on which to latch critiques, questions, and comments, so it's easy to forget that each step or decision in the whole methodology had to be chosen from an enormous space of possibilities. And this looks— at least on a first red—like very many consecutive well-made steps and decisions

Events as evidence vs. spotlights

Note: inspired by the FTX+Bostrom fiascos and associated discourse. May (hopefully) develop into longform by explicitly connecting this taxonomy to those recent events (but my base rate of completing actual posts cautions humility)

Event as evidence

  • The default: normal old Bayesian evidence
    • The realm of "updates," "priors," and "credences" 
  • Pseudo-definition: Induces [1] a change to or within a model (of whatever the model's user is trying to understand)
  • Corresponds to models that are (as is often assumed):
    1. Well-defined (i.e. specific, complete, and without latent or hidden information)
    2. Stable except in response to 'surprising' new information

Event as spotlight

  • Pseudo-definition: Alters the how a person views, understands, or interacts with a model, just as a spotlight changes how an audience views what's on stage
    • In particular, spotlights change the salience of some part of a model
  • This can take place both/either:
    • At an individual level (think spotlight before an audience of one); and/or
    • To a community's shared model (think spotlight before an audience of many)
  • They can also which information latent in a model is functionally available to a person or community, just as restricting one's field of vision increases the resolution of whichever part of the image shines through

Example

  1. You're hiking a bit of the Appalachian Trail with two friends, going north, using the following of a map (the "external model")   
  2. An hour in, your mental/internal model probably looks like this:
  3. Event: the collapse of a financial institution you hear traffic
    1. As evidence, this causes you to change where you think you are—namely, a bit south of the first road you were expecting to cross
    2. As spotlight, this causes the three of you to stare at the same map as before model but in such a way that your internal models are all very similar, each looking something like this
Really the crop should be shifted down some but I don't feel like redoing it rn
  1. ^

    Or fails to induce

A few Forum meta things you might find useful or interesting:

  1.  Two super basic interactive data viz apps 
    1. 1) How often (in absolute and relative terms) a given forum topic appears with another given topic
    2. 2) Visualizing the popularity of various tags
  2. An updated Forum scrape including the full text and attributes of 10k-ish posts as of Christmas, '22
    1. See the data without full text in Google Sheets here
    2. Post explaining version 1.0 from a few months back
  3. From the data in no. 2, a few effortposts that never garnered an accordant amount of attention (qualitatively filtered from posts with (1) long read times (2) modest positive karma (3) not a ton of comments.
    1.  Columns labels should be (left to right):
      1. Title/link
      2. Author(s)
      3. Date posted
      4. Karma (as of a week ago)
      5. Comments (as of a week ago)
 
Open Philanthropy: Our Approach to Recruiting a Strong Teampmk10/23/2021110
Histories of Value Lock-in and Ideology Critiqueclem9/2/2022111
Why I think strong general AI is coming soonporby9/28/2022131
Anthropics and the Universal DistributionJoe_Carlsmith11/28/2021180
Range and Forecasting Accuracyniplav5/27/2022122
A Pin and a Balloon: Anthropic Fragility Increases Chances of Runaway Global Warmingturchin9/11/2022161
Strategic considerations for effective wild animal suffering workAnimal_Ethics1/18/2022210
Red teaming a model for estimating the value of longtermist interventions - A critique of Tarsney's "The Epistemic Challenge to Longtermism"Anjay F, Chris Lonsberry, Bryce Woodworth7/16/2022210
Welfare stories: How history should be written, with an example (early history of Guam)kbog1/2/2020181
Summary of Evidence, Decision, and CausalityDawn Drescher9/5/2020270
Some AI research areas and their relevance to existential safetyAndrew Critch12/15/2020270
Maximizing impact during consulting: building career capital, direct work and more.Vaidehi Agarwalla, Jakob, Jona, Peter44448/13/2021212
Independent Office of Animal ProtectionAnimal Ask, Ren Springlea11/22/2022212
Investigating how technology-focused academic fields become self-sustainingBen Snodin, Megan Kinniment9/6/2021252
Using artificial intelligence (machine vision) to increase the effectiveness of human-wildlife conflict mitigations could benefit WAWRethink Priorities, Tapinder Sidhu10/28/2022223
Crucial questions about optimal timing of work and donationsMichaelA8/14/2020284
Will we eventually be able to colonize other stars? Notes from a preliminary reviewNick_Beckstead6/22/2014297
Philanthropists Probably Shouldn't Mission-Hedge AI ProgressMichaelDickens8/23/2022279

A resource that might be useful: https://tinyapps.org/ 

 

There's a ton there, but one anecdote from yesterday: referred me to this $5 IOS desktop app which (among other more reasonable uses) made me this full quality, fully intra-linked >3600 page PDF of (almost) every file/site linked to by every file/site linked to from Tomasik's homepage (works best with old-timey simpler sites like that)

Nice! (admit I've only just skimmed and looked at the eye-catching graphics and tables  🙃). A couple small potential improvements to those things: 

  1. Is a higher-quality/bigger file version of the infographic available? Shouldn't matter, of course, but may as well put it on a fair memetic playing field with all the other beautiful charts out there
  2. Would you consider adding a few "reference" columns to the Welfare Range Table, in particular values for:
    1. Human (or perhaps "human if introspection is epistemically meaningful and qualia exist")
    2. Organisms from other kingdoms: plant, bacteria, etc. (I think any single one without nervous tissue would suffice)
    3. A representative (very probable) non-moral patient physical object ("rock")
    4. Less important (intuitively to me) potential additions:
      1. chatGPT
      2. Video game character or anything else that "behaves" in some sense like an advanced organism but is ontologically very different 
      3. any other contrarian counterexample things that might push the limits of the taxonomy's applicability (maybe 'Roomba' or 'the IOS operating system' or 'a p-zombie' ?)

A monitor will only benefit you if you act on its readings by a) buying a purifier, b) avoiding areas with pollution. If you install the monitor at home you don't really have the option to avoid it so a) is the only viable path to impact I see.

Eh it's gonna depend on the particulars of each living situation but I think there are a bunch of dials/levers  the monitor can cause you to adjust:

Usual/common

  • Central air (is that the right term?): 
    • temperature
    • speed (including off/on)
    • which vents are open
  • Windows
  • Doors open/closed/cracked
  • Fans (potentially even a cheap USB-powered one)
    • speed 
    • direction 
  • Air purifier (+quantity/price/quality/speed/noise)
  • (De)humidifier (idk if these have an affect on air quality but plausible)
  • Which room you work in (ik not everyone has this or other choices on the list)
  • Plants (I think the effect size is usually too small but not certain)

Potentially also:

  • Moving (residences/cities)
  • When you work/move/go elsewhere 
    • e.g., going to the library if C02 hits 1000 ppm when roommate is having friends over
  • Wearing a mask (at least potentially idk)
  • Which cleaning/scent products you buy and use
  • Which appliances you buy (like electric vs gas stove)

More important than "tweak each dial 2%" though, is that I think during some small but non-trivial proportion of user-hours (5-10%?), the user would discover that their working environment is bad enough to warrant a more dramatic change than "crack a window and turn on a fan," which they wouldn't make without direct immediate feedback from a monitor. I'm not certain though of course, and certainly could be wrong about this!

I don't want to make too strong a claim here; my current guess is basically "C02  doesn't (at normalish levels) decrease intelligence per se; it makes you tired and lazy" (so playing a fun and low executive function game less affected perhaps?) On the other hand I recently learned that it's anxiogenic, which intuitively points in the opposite direction of arousal so I really don't know...

On the other other hand, compare air quality at large to, say, "temperature while studying," where the outcome variable measured is final grade. Would I really get worse grades if it was always 75° instead of 65°? I'm not sure, but even null result RCT for air conditioning affect on academic performance or math problems completed in a minute wouldn't convince me that temperature has no causal effect on cognition-intensive tasks; ceteris paribus  is ~impossible to achieve!

New Thing

Last week I complained about not being able to see all the top shortform posts in one list. Thanks to Lorenzo for pointing me to the next best option: 

...the closest I found is https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/allPosts?sortedBy=topAdjusted&timeframe=yearly&filter=all, you can see the inflation-adjusted top posts and shortforms by year.

It wasn't too hard to put together a text doc with (at least some of each of) all 1470ish shortform posts, which you can view or download here.

  • Pros: (practically) infinite scroll of insight porn 
  • Cons: 
    • longer posts get cut off at about 300 words
    • Each post is an ugly block of text
    • No links to the original post [see doc for more]
  • Various  other disclaimers/notes at the top of the document

I was starting to feel like the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie's eternally-doomed protagonist  (it'll look presentable if I just do this one more thing), so I'm cutting myself off here to see whether it might be worth me (or someone else) making it better. 

Newer Thing (?)

  • I do think this could be an MVP  (minimal viable product) for a much nicer-looking and readable document, such as:
    • "this but without the posts cut off and with spacing figured out" 
    • "nice-looking searchable pdf with original media and formatting"
    •  "WWOTF-level-production book and audiobook"
    • Any of those ^ three options but only for the top 10/100/n posts
    • So by all means, copy and paste and turn it into something better!

 

Oh yeah and, if you haven't done so already, I highly recommend going through the top Shortform posts for each of the last four years here

Late but thanks on both, and commented there! 

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