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My Understanding of Paul Christiano's Iterated Amplification AI Safety Research Agenda

Hey Max, thanks for your comment :)

Yeah, that's a bit confusing. I think technically, yes, IDA is iterated distillation and amplification and that Iterated Amplification is just IA. However, IIRC many people referred to Paul Christiano's research agenda as IDA even though his sequence is called Iterated amplification, so I stuck to the abbreviation that I saw more often while also sticking to the 'official' name. (I also buried a comment on this in footnote 6)

I think lately, I've mostly seen people refer to the agenda and ideas as Iterated Amplification. (And IIRC I also think the amplification is the more relevant part.)

The Case for Education

Hm, I'm not sure how easily it's reproducible/what exactly he did. I had to write essays on the topic every week and he absolutely destroyed my first essays. I think reading their essay is an exceptionally good way to find out how much the person in question misunderstands and I'm not sure how easily you can recreate this in conversation.

I guess the other thing was a combination of deep subject-matter expertise + [being very good at normal good things EAs would also do] + a willingness to assume that when I said something that didn't seem to make sense, it indeed didn't make sense, and telling me so/giving me all the possible objections to my argument; and then just feeling comfortable talking for 20 minutes (basically lecturing). I think that worked because of the formal tutor-student setting we were in and because he evidently and very obviously knew a lot more about the topic than me. I think it's harder in natural settings to realize that that's the case and confidently act on it.

What I mean by [normal good things EAs would also do]: Listening to my confused talking, paraphrasing what I was trying to say into the best steelman, making sure that that's what I meant before pointing out all the flaws.

EA Meta Fund Grants – July 2020

Small point that's not central to your argument:

A similar thing might happen here: if there was a universal mentoring group that gave women access to both male and female mentors, why would they choose the segregated group that restricted them to a subset of mentors?

I had actually also asked WANBAM at some point whether they considered adding male mentors as well but for different reasons.

I think at least some women would still prefer female mentors. Anecdotally, I often made the experience that it's easier for other women to relate to some of my work-related struggles and that it's generally easier for me to discuss those struggles with women. This is definitely not true in every case but the hit rate (of connections where talking about work-struggles works really well) among women is much higher than among men and I expect this to be true for many other women as well.

EA Forum update: New editor! (And more)

Is there a way to have footnotes and tables in the same post? I tried just now and can't see a way. (You have to switch to EA forum doc [beta] editor for the tables which kills your footnotes; you have to switch to markdown for footnotes which kills your tables)


edit: I found some markdown code for tables which worked but then had trouble formatting within the table. Decided to just take pictures of the tables instead and upload them as pictures which also works. If anyone knows an easier/nicer way to do this, or if anything is planned, that would be great :)

The Case for Education

Thanks for writing this :) I certainly agree that the education system isn't optimal and maybe only useful to a handful of people. However, I'd like to provide myself as a data point of someone who actually thinks they benefit from their education. I'm worried that people might sometimes come away with the feeling that they're doing something wrong and pointless when going to uni/only doing signalling when that's not true in some cases.

I'm a bit of an outlier in that I'm actually in my second bachelor's degree and I definitely don't want to claim that that's a good idea for everyone. The first one was from a not well known University and my current degree is at a prestigious university. After my first year at my current university I was offered a job at an EA organization and after a lot of deliberation turned it down. I'm not sure that was the right choice but I still think I got a lot of benefits from continuing my degree. Here are some examples for why:

  • I learned a lot about writing. I got a ton of practice and feedback (both 1-2x a week). I don't think this would have been possible otherwise.
  • Last term, I took a course in Philosophy of Cognitive Science: There's a good chance I would have wanted to spend some time on the same topics in my free time for EA-ish reasons. My tutor pushed back and improved my thinking a lot and in a way that I frankly don't expect most of the people in my EA circle to do. I hope this also helps me evaluate the quality of discussion and arguments in EA a bit although I'm not sure if that's a real effect.
  • I often see the argument advanced that you could just learn much more effectively in your free time. I'm slowly arriving at a point at which I think I would probably continue learning and working on my own. However, when I started studying that was certainly not the case. It's really hard to self study (for many). I think many and probably the majority of people really benefit from the structure that forces you to do something. That and the tutoring I get at my uni make me think that quantitatively I actually learn a lot more at uni than I otherwise would, although it's true of course that I could direct my time to learn a lower quantity but more relevant content.
  • This is not argument for education per se, but at the current point I'd be quite concerned about EA curricula being too one-sided if that's the only education you get. (It depends on the field and execution of course and I might be wrong)
  • I expect the benefits are probably greater for certain graduate studies where you have more contact to mentors but I'm not sure about this.

Admittedly, all of these reasons mainly apply to my second degree. I'm a lot more willing to relent that my first degree was mostly a waste of time, although I'm still often surprised by how much stuff I learned was actually useful (mostly stats). I also think the case is much different if you're not interested in research, or interested in e.g. ML engineering.

2019 Ethnic Diversity Community Survey

Thanks for doing this work!

I've thought of the "Improving awareness and training of social justice" point a bit in the past when thinking about gender diversity and find it difficult. I am a bit worried that it is extremely hard or impossible without everyone investing a substantial amount of time:

My impression is that a lot of (ethnic/gender/...) diversity questions has no easy fixes that some people can think about and implement, but would rather benefit a lot from every single person trying to educate themselves more to increase their own awareness, esp. community builders, and high profile people that get a lot of attention. One example that I think is hard to improve otherwise: I noticed in Toby Ord's The Precipice the following sections:

"Indeed, when I think of the unbroken chain of generations leading to our time and of everything they have built for us, I am humbled. I am overwhelmed with gratitude"

I know this doesn't detract from his overall point of what the generations of the last hundreds of thousand years have done "for us", but I can't help to wonder how reading this must feel like for some people that primarily associate history with their ancestors being fucked over by colonialism or being enslaved, and them still paying the price for this. The Precipice actually mentions this later but is clearly written from the perspective of the people descending from those inflicting injustice, and not receiving it:

"Consider that some of the greatest injustices have been inflicted [...] by groups upon groups: Systematic persecution, stolen lands, genocides. We may have duties to properly acknowledge and memorialise these wrong; to confront the acts of our past. And there may yet be ways for the beneficiaries of these acts to partly remedy them or atone for them."

While I'm a POC, I'm certainly not from an ethnicity that suffered the most from the historic (and ongoing) actions of the elites in primarily white countries. But I can imagine that many people whose families are or have been on the receiving end of the injustice might be alienated by this section, which reads a bit like it's a given that readers are on the other side of the coin.

I don't want to slander the book or the person, I very much enjoy the book, and don't assume any negative intentions (and think the section can also be read more charitably, but I think it's important that it can be read in an alienating way by POC). I just think this is a good example of the problem and that it is really hard to be aware of such things when you didn't spend substantial time to understand underrepresented groups - that you are not part of - better.

While, in an ideal world, I would like everyone in the world to do so, it is a big time sink and feel reluctant about recommending everyone to invest this time, especially when the opportunity cost are so high. I'm not sure how to remedy this; whether investing the time is clearly worth it; there are better ways to make progress that are less time intensive; or whether we should only aim for low hanging fruit; or something entirely else. I would be very curious to hear other people's thoughts, I'd gladly notice that I'm totally off the mark and I worry more than warranted :)

(I also feel weary of openly saying that investing into understanding underrepresented groups might not be worth the time, as I just did, because I think it can be very hurtful and dehumanizing.)

Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

I respect that you are putting money behind your estimates and get the idea behind it, but would recommend you to reconsider if you want to do this (publicly) in this context and maybe consider removing these comments. Not only because it looks quite bad from the outside, but also because I'm not sure it's appropriate on a forum about how to do good, especially if the virus should happen to kill a lot of people over the next year (also meaning that even more people would have lost someone to the virus). I personally found this quite morbid and I have a lot more context into EA culture than a random person reading this, e.g. I can guess that the primary motivation is not "making money" or "the feeling of winning and being right" - which would be quite inappropriate in this context -, but that might not be clear to others with less context.


(Maybe I'm also the only one having this reaction in which case it's probably not so problematic)


edit: I can understand if people just disagree with me because you think there's no harm done by such bets, but I'd be curious to hear from the people who down voted if in addition to that you think that comments like mine are harmful because of being bad for epistemic habits or something, so grateful to hear if someone thinks comments like these shouldn't be made!