I study computer science and information science at Cornell University. I am a public interest technologist interested in using CS to address pressing social problems. (she/her)

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AMA or discuss my 80K podcast episode: Ben Garfinkel, FHI researcher

What do you think is the probability of AI causing an existential catastrophe in the next century?

evelynciara's Shortform

I think we need to be careful when we talk about AI and automation not to commit the lump of labor fallacy. When we say that a certain fraction of economically valuable work will be automated at any given time, or that this fraction will increase, we shouldn't implicitly assume that the total amount of work being done in the economy is constant. Historically, automation has increased the size of the economy, thereby creating more work to be done, whether by humans or by machines; we should expect the same to happen in the future. (Note that this doesn't exclude the possibility of increasingly general AI systems performing almost all economically valuable work. This could very well happen even as the total amount of work available skyrockets.)

Which countries are most receptive to more immigration?

I think these concerns are valid. The website Open Borders: The Case addresses many of the main arguments against open borders, including the possibility of nativist backlash to increased immigration.

"Nativist backlash" refers to the hypothesis that a country opening its borders to all immigration would cause a significant portion of current residents to subsequently turn against immigration. The problem with this claim is that the probability of backlash depends on how a country adopts open borders in the first place. Nathan Smith writes:

The trouble with “nativist backlash” as a standalone topic, is that a nativist backlash against open borders seems to presuppose that open borders is somehow established first. But for open borders to be established, something major would have to change in the policymaking process and/or public opinion. And whatever that change was, would presumably affect the likelihood and nature of any nativist backlash.

If open borders were established based on false advertising that it wasn’t really radical and wouldn’t make that much difference, then there would doubtless be a nativist backlash. Likewise if it were established by some sort of presidential and judicial fiat without popular buy-in. But if open borders came about because large majorities were persuaded that people have a natural right to migrate and it’s unjust to imprison them in the country of their birth, then people might be willing to accept the drastic consequences of their moral epiphanies.

So any claim that “open borders will inevitably provoke a nativist backlash” just seems ill formulated. One first needs a scenario by which open borders is established. Then one could assess the probability and likely character of a nativist backlash, but it would be different for every open borders scenario.

Is some kind of minimally-invasive mass surveillance required for catastrophic risk prevention?

Background: I am an information science student who has taken a class on the societal aspects of surveillance.

My gut feeling is that advocating for or implementing "mass surveillance" targeted at preventing individuals from using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) would be counterproductive.

First, were a mass surveillance system aimed at controlling WMDs to be set up, governments would lobby for it to be used for other purposes as well, such as monitoring for conventional terrorism. Pretty soon it wouldn't be minimally invasive anymore; it would just be a general-purpose mass surveillance system.

Second, a surveillance system of the scope that Bostrom has proposed ("ubiquitous real-time worldwide surveillance") would itself be an existential risk to liberal democracy. The problem is that a ubiquitous surveillance system would create the feeling that surveillees are constantly being watched. Even if it had strong technical and institutional privacy guarantees and those guarantees were communicated to the public, people would likely not be able to trust it; rumors of abuse would only make establishing trust harder. People modify their behavior when they know they are being watched or could be watched at any time, so they would be less willing to engage in behaviors that are stigmatized by society even if the Panopticon were not explicitly looking out for those behaviors. This feeling of constantly being watched would stifle risk-taking, individuality, creativity, and freedom of expression, all of which are essential to sustain human progress.

I think that a much more limited suite of targeted surveillance systems, combined with other mechanisms for arms control, would be a lot more promising while still being effective at controlling WMDs. Such limited surveillance systems are already used in gun control: for example, the U.S. federal government requires dealers to keep records of gun sales for at least 20 years, and many U.S. states and other countries keep records of who is licensed to own a gun. Some states also require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns in order to fight gun trafficking. These surveillance measures can be designed to balance gun owners' privacy interests with the public's interest in reducing gun violence. We could regulate synthetic biology a lot like we do gun control: for example, companies that create synthetic biology or sell desktop DNA sequencers could be required to maintain records of transactions.

However, I don't expect this targeted approach to work as well for cyber weapons. Because computers are general-purpose, cyber weapons can theoretically be developed and executed on any computer, and trying to prevent the use of cyber weapons by surveilling everyone who owns a computer would be extremely inefficient (since the vast majority of people who use computers are not creating cyber weapons) and impractical (because power users could easily uninstall any spyware planted on their machines). Also, because computers are ubiquitous and often store a lot of sensitive personal information, this form of surveillance would be extremely unpopular as well as invasive. Strengthening cyber defense seems like a more promising way to prevent harm from cyber attacks.

EA Updates for June 2020

Thanks for making this post! I think it would be helpful if you linked directly to the playlist for EAGxVirtual 2020 instead of the channel.

evelynciara's Shortform

How pressing is countering anti-science?

Intuitively, anti-science attitudes seem like a major barrier to solving many of the world's most pressing problems: for example, climate change denial has greatly derailed the American response to climate change, and distrust of public health authorities may be stymying the COVID-19 response. (For instance, a candidate running in my district for State Senate is campaigning on opposition to contact tracing as well as vaccines.) I'm particularly concerned about anti-economics attitudes because they lead to bad economic policies that don't solve the problems they're meant to solve, such as protectionism and rent control, and opposition to policies that are actually supported by evidence. Additionally, I've heard (but can't find the source for this) that economists are generally more reluctant to do public outreach in defense of their profession than scientists in other fields are.

Forum update: Tags are live! Go use them!

Can you please add the tag directory to the sidebar?

evelynciara's Shortform

I think there should be an EA Fund analog for criminal justice reform. This could especially attract non-EA dollars.

Any good organizations fighting racism?

My understanding is that the criminal justice system plays a central role in institutional racism in the United States. For example, it is a significant contributor to the racial unemployment gap:

Mass incarceration plays a significant role in the lower labor force participation rate for African American men. African Americans are more likely to be incarcerated following an arrest than are white Americans, and formerly incarcerated individuals of all races experience difficulties in gaining employment. In spite of years of widespread agreement among researchers that incarceration is a profound factor in employment outcomes, employment statistics still do not gather data on incarceration, erasing a key structural factor. (Ajilore 2020)

Thus, criminal justice reform seems like an effective, targeted way to break the cycle.

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