Ben_Harack

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What research has gone into “state collapse” as a possible x-risk factor?

I looked into this a bit during 2014-2017. At the time I thought it was plausible that mechanisms similar to state failure (including even significant underdevelopment such that effective policing never becomes possible) might be the source of a noteworthy amount of existential risk. I mentioned this in passing in Ruling Ourselves

Bostrom's "Vulnerable World Hypothesis" also contains some ideas that point in this direction.

Since then I've updated pretty strongly in the direction of focusing on advanced nations and great powers. As far as I can tell, it will be these nations that shape the development and use of every transformative technology that has shown up on my radar. Thus, I now focus heavily on great powers. 

State collapse is probably fairly heavily studied in the realm of nuclear security (think post-Soviet countries, Pakistan, and North Korea for starters), which for traditional IR is about as close as one gets to existential risk.

Impact Certificates on a Blockchain

Interesting, thanks for the reply! Let me unpack what I'm thinking of when I say "if such a system existed". Here are some things I'm imagining in such a scenario:

Ideally, there is a market already (not just the potential for one, as that link indicates), or there is a clear plan and a number of EAs that I know the names of who have said that they will participate. I'm willing to be an early adopter, but I'm not in a position where I can vet the fundamentals of the project. For example, I'd like to see people who were involved in the prior attempts to do Certificates of Impact endorsing a plan. Similarly, I'd like to see analysis from a different and identifiable person who is an expert with crypto. I'm just conversant in crypto, and I find most of the writing here to be very somewhat inaccessible due to its length and complexity.

The above is currently my main set of cruxes, but here are a few expanded thoughts on things I'd like to see:

  • What is the precise plan (not just a discussion of tradeoffs and technical possibilities). 
    • Example: A blog post (or several) detailing exactly how the Certificates of Impact system works, how each type of individual can interact with it in all the expected ways, and what its constraints are. After reading such documentation, someone with close to zero crypto knowledge should be able to participate.
    • Nice to have: A community-vetted website or portal hosted on a reliable domain that simplifies the interactions in the market so all unneeded and removed complexity and terminology is hidden.
  • Public scrutiny of the system by identifiable crypto people in the community. At my level of knowledge, the only way that I can feasibly be relatively certain that the system would likely be sane is that I've seen it publicly scrutinized by people who are extremely skilled in this sort of thing.

I realize that what I'm asking for is costly. From my perspective, these requirements seem to be pretty fundamental for us actually kickstarting  a vibrant impact cert market. 

On the flip side, I think there's a lot of potential for such a system, so I'd see this work as quite plausibly very high impact and thus hopefully a mini-cause around which folks can coordinate. Personally, I can try to rally support once a system exists (see above), but I'm not currently in a position to rally community leaders nor get crypto experts to scrutinize the plan.

What posts do you want someone to write?

Credible qualitative and/or quantitative evidence on the effectiveness of habits, tools, and techniques for knowledge work.

What things did you do to gain experience related to EA?

I pursued related research prior to learning about EA, attended EA Global a few times, joined a startup that is EA-aligned (the Human Diagnosis Project), conducted more research on the side, and provided both mentorship and collaboration for other researchers.

Impact Certificates on a Blockchain

I'll try to directly answer some of the questions raised.

I'm generally interested in this project. If such a system existed, I'd probably issue certificates for research artifacts (papers, blog posts, software, datasets, etc.) and would advocate for the usage of impact certificates more broadly. 

If I were able to reliably buy arbitrary fractions of certificates on an open market, I'd probably do so somewhat often (every several weeks) in order to send signals of value. My personal expenditures would be very small (a few hundreds of dollars per year probably unless something significantly changes), but I'd also try to influence others to get involved similarly. 

As for concerns, I'm very uncertain about my position on the diverging concerns raised and argued by RyanCarey and gwern in this thread. As a creator, I can imagine wanting access to the entirety (or at least the majority) of the value of certificates attached to my work. As an observer of a market, I'd like for it to generally be open for speculation and revaluation, etc. Perhaps I'd be in favor of a system that splits the difference somehow, perhaps via smart contracts that enforce a split of resale royalties (most going to the creator, some going to the prior owner)? 

Relatedly, I'd love to see a workable / understandable / intuitive system for revaluation of a certificate as various parties end up owning various parts of it, bought at differing prices (if such a thing is possible). I can imagine myself wanting to send a signal that a cert should be valued more highly by buying a small fraction of it for higher than the going rate. I may also just be unfamiliar with pricing schemes for fractional ownership and prices like this.

What EA projects could grow to become megaprojects, eventually spending $100m per year?

The Human Diagnosis Project (disclaimer: I currently work there). If successful, it will be a major step toward accurate medical diagnosis for all of humanity.

How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year?

I'm late to the party on this reply, but I'll try to reply as if I'm doing so in late 2020.

Yes, I'm more engaged than I was in 2019, and that's saying something considering that I was pretty engaged in 2019: working at an EA-aligned org (the Human Diagnosis Project), participating in EAG, joining Modeling Cooperation, building other collaborations, writing blog posts, etc.

What changed?
1. The Human Diagnosis Project continues to make headway toward the possibility of (very) significant impact and my role there increased substantially in responsibility.

2. During 2020 I systematically pursued knowledge relating to some of my key interests (e.g., International Relations and game theory) and this exposure seems to have opened a lot of conceptual doors for me. This substantially increased my belief that I can make significant contributions to EA and thus increased my motivation.

COVID-19 Assessment Tool by the Human Diagnosis Project

An update here: This COVID-19 forward triage tool now also allows anyone to get a doctor to look at their particular case for an extremely low fee ($12 USD - though free service is currently available if needed).

Growth and the case against randomista development

Thanks for this piece, I thought it was interesting!

A small error I noticed while reading through one of the references is that the line "For example, France’s GDP per capita is around 60% of US GDP per capita.[7]" is incorrectly summarizing the cited material. The value needs to be 67% to make this sentence correct. The relevant section in the underlying material is: "As an example, suppose we wish to compare living standards in France and the United States. GDP per person is markedly lower in France: France had a per capita GDP in 2005 of just 67 percent of the U.S. value. Consumption per person in France was even lower — only 60 percent of the U.S., even adding government consumption to private consumption."

Healthy Competition

I believe that regional talent pools could also be another factor in favor of the multiple organization scenario. For example, something I think a lot about is how the USA could really use an institution like the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) in the long run. In addition to all of the points made in the original post, I think that such an institution would improve the overall health of the ecosystem of "FHI-like research" by drawing on a talent pool that is at least somewhat non-overlapping with that drawn upon by FHI.

I think that the talent pools are at least somewhat distinct because a) crossing borders is often logistically challenging or impossible, depending on the scenario; and b) not all job candidates can relocate to the United Kingdom for a variety of personal reasons.

If anyone is interested in discussing a "FHI-like institution in the USA" further, please get in touch with me either via direct message or via ben.harack at visionofearth.org.


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