Hauke Hillebrandt, PhD Founder of Lets-Fund.org



Wiki Contributions


HaukeHillebrandt's Shortform

Ideas for forum: 

If we had a tag called "Links" for  posts that aren't displayed on the front page, then we could have a "Hackernews"/ "Reddit" style section were people can share -without comment- external links related to EA or that could be discussed in the context of EA. This would be different from current "link posts" which might have a higher (imagined) bar to posting.

Along a similar lines, there could be a low effort way for the current Shortform function to emulate Twitter, where the 'magic' sorting algorithm also takes into account the length of the post.

Movie Review: The Story of Louis Pasteur

It's already on the Internet Archive, in the future - if all goes well - a bot will scrape it, and then it will be denoised automatically by our audio players. 

But I've linked it at Wikipedia.

Movie Review: The Story of Louis Pasteur

I enjoyed the radio version (complete with old school ads). It's in public domain - so I removed the noise and uploaded it here.

HaukeHillebrandt's Shortform

A draft of Eric Schwitzgebel's new book 'The Weirdness of the World' from October 26, 2021 with a few EA-relevant themes:

1 In Praise of Weirdness 

2 If Materialism Is True, the United States Is Probably Conscious 

3 Universal Bizarreness and Universal Dubiety  

4 1% Skepticism  

5 Kant Meets Cyberpunk  

6 An Innocent and Wonderful Definition of Consciousness

7 Experimental Evidence for the Existence of an External World

8 The Loose Friendship of Visual Experience and Reality

9 Is There Something It’s Like to Be a Garden Snail? Or: How Sparse or Abundant Is Consciousness in the Universe?

10 The Moral Status of Future Artificial Intelligence: Doubts and a Dilemma

11 Weirdness and Wonder



"1. What I Will Argue in This Book. 

Consider three huge questions: What is the fundamental structure of the cosmos? How does human consciousness fit into it? What should we value? What I will argue in this book – with emphasis on the first two questions, but also sometimes drawing implications for the third – is (1.) the answers are currently beyond our capacity to know, and (2.) we do nonetheless know at least this: Whatever the truth is, it’s weird. Careful reflection will reveal all of the viable theories on these grand topics to be both bizarre and dubious. In Chapter 3 (“Universal Bizarreness and Universal Dubiety”), I will call this the Universal Bizarreness thesis and the Universal Dubiety thesis. Something that seems almost too crazy to believe must be true, but we can’t resolve which of the various crazy-seeming options is ultimately correct. If you’ve ever wondered why every wide-ranging, foundations-minded philosopher in the history of Earth has held bizarre metaphysical or cosmological views (each philosopher holding, seemingly, a different set of bizarre views), Chapter 3 offers an explanation. I will argue that given our weak epistemic position, our best big-picture cosmology and our best theories of consciousness are tentative, modish, and strange. Strange: As I will argue, every approach to cosmology and consciousness has bizarre implications that run strikingly contrary to mainstream “common sense”. Tentative: As I will also argue, epistemic caution is warranted, partly because theories on these topics run so strikingly contrary to common sense and also partly because they test the limits of scientific inquiry. Indeed, dubious assumptions about the fundamental structure of mind and world frame or undergird our understanding of the nature and value of scientific inquiry, as I discuss in Chapters 4 (“1% Skepticism”), 5 (“Kant Meets Cyberpunk”), and 7 (“Experimental Evidence for the Existence of an External World”)

Modish: On a philosopher’s time scale – where a few decades ago is “recent” and a few decades hence is “soon” – we live in a time of change, with cosmological theories and theories of consciousness rising and receding based mainly on broad promise and what captures researchers’ imaginations. We ought not trust that the current range of mainstream academic theories will closely resemble the range in a hundred years, much less the actual truth. Even the common garden snail defies us (Chapter 9, “Is There Something It’s Like to Be a Garden Snail?”). Does it have experiences? If so, how much and of what kind? In general, how sparse or abundant is consciousness in the universe? Is consciousness – feelings and experiences of at least the simplest, least reflective kind – cheap and common, maybe even ubiquitous? Or is consciousness rare and expensive, requiring very specific conditions in the most sophisticated organisms? Our best scientific and philosophical theories conflict sharply on these questions, spanning a huge range of possible answers, with no foreseeable resolution. The question of consciousness in near-future computers or robots similarly defies resolution, but with arguably more troubling consequences: If constructions of ours might someday possess humanlike emotions and experiences, that creates moral quandaries and puzzle cases for which our ethical intuitions and theories are unprepared. In a century, the best ethical theories of 2022 might seem as quaint and inadequate as medieval physics applied to relativistic rocketships (Chapter 10, “The Moral Status of Future Artificial Intelligence: Doubts and a Dilemma”)."


Comments for shorter Cold Takes pieces

Thanks for this post- I forwarded it to a Oxford bioethicist and nudged him to write about it and they just published a thoughtful piece on it in the BMJ: 'Regulating strain-specific vaccines – speed, rigour and challenge trials'.

Flimsy Pet Theories, Enormous Initiatives

Good point- but it's impossible to know if there are hidden reasons for his behavior. However, I find  my theory more plausible: he didn't think much about social impact initially, made a lot of money at Microsoft, then turned towards philanthropy, and then selected a few cause areas (US education, global health, and later clean energy), partially based on cost-effectiveness grounds (being surprised that global health is so much more effective than US healthcare), but it seems unlikely that he systematically commissioned extensive cause prioritization work OpenPhil style and then after lengthy deliberation came down on global health being a robustly good buy that is 'increasingly hard to beat'. 

Flimsy Pet Theories, Enormous Initiatives

Very interesting - I've been thinking about a generalized theory of bikeshedding that also applies to careers, where some people will have initial exposure to a career through, say, an internship, and because they then know that topic very well and are ambiguity averse, they'll just continue with it until the end of their lives. Because they do value impact they'll post-hoc rationalize their choice as very important and then fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy.

I had similar thoughts on Gates recently after watching his netflix documentary:

"The Gates foundation focuses on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), because diarrheal deaths are about 1m/year. 

They invested quite heavily in this and also seem to routinely leverage money from governments, and influence the discourse on the relative priority of WASH within global development. This could be net negative because global health might not be as effective as other economic development interventions (c.f. the work by Lant Pritchett).

He seems to have spent an extraordinary amount of money on WASH and just generally global development.

What caused him to focus on this? And what is thus the more distal cause for the EA focusing on global health? Thinking about this might uncover non-optimal path dependency. 

There seem to be a few causes:

  • because he read a NYT article by Nicholas Christofis on diarrheal disease, which because it affects people directly. 
  • because he experienced burnout at Microsoft and wanted to do something more meaningful and direct
  • He personally went to India and vaccinated children himself giving him an emotional attachment to the cause

I used to be quite the fan of Gates until now, and though I thought his foundation could have done better if it were more flexible, I always thought he gets things roughly right."

How can we make Our World in Data more useful to the EA community?

Automated Local Regression Discontinuity Design Discovery

Automated discovery of outliers in multicountry datasets (i.e. where you can see where your country is 3 SDs away from the mean).

What are some success stories of grantmakers beating the wider EA community?

re: Chris Chambers: Registered Reports advocacy - I think this could be a big deal if this publication format becomes the standard in the sciences:

Roughly $80,000 (including the EA funds grant) was raised to support Professor Chris Chambers’ to advocate for “Registered Reports” which improves the way research is done across all hypothesis-driven science. More than 200 journals have now adapted this publication format including Nature Communications (e.g. for epidemiology papers) and PLoS ONE[20], the second largest scientific journal and by one measure the most important scientific journal.[21] Some of this was likely due to our grantees advocacy.[22] Recently, Chambers said that “some of the most useful and flexible funding I've received has been donated by hundreds of generous members of the public (& small orgs) via our Lets-Fund.Org supported [crowdfunding campaign]”.[23] 

There are also signs of adoption of the Registered Reports format in high-impact areas such as development economics,[24] health economics,[25],[26] climate change,[27] and catastrophic biological bisks[28]. One recent study provides initial evidence of higher research quality of registered reports compared with the standard publishing model. (See here for a full list of Registered Reports published so far).

Chambers has also started the “Rapid Registered Reports for Covid-19” initiative.[29] For instance, one Registered Report [30] looks at whether core warming can be good for COVID-19 patients undergoing mechanical ventilation.[31] In our extensive write-up at Lets-Fund.org/Better-Science we also evaluate this grant on differential technological development grounds. As a result, the Effective Altruism Long-term Future Fund endorsed this project with a grant.

In November 2021, Chambers published an article on the past, present and future of Registered Reports. This work is extended by proposals like trinity review, ​​which integrated Registered Reports with research ethics and funding reviews, and peer community peer review.

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