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· 10mo ago · 1m read


Could the latent effects of Covid worsen AI alignment efforts and/or other x-risk responses?

This is very much a 'I suspect (and hope) I'm wrong' question, but I thought it was still worth checking the rationale for this not being seen as a major issue. Essentially, is it likely that the long-term and latent effects of Covid on cognitive performance could significantly damage global responses to x-risks?

With a studies finding cognitive decline and brain shrinkage after even mild Covid infections (with IQ drops higher than stroke patients in some severe cases) and Omicron variants, though less deadly, apparently still causing greater brain apoptosis (of many previously healthy cells) than previous variants, is it possible that mass infection could be causing some level of general cognitive decline? Or, if this is happening, to some extent, to most people, with mass infection, are we not even noticing the extent of this decline?

If so, even if this is a pretty small or even negligible decline in most cases, if the raw ability to handle cognitive complexity is an important aspect of making effective political decisions, could small (and therefore particularly unnoticed) but en masse cognitive declines be enough to negatively tip the balance in responses to existing x-risks?

Add in potential further declines from repeat infections and cumulative damage, and might key political decision-makers have unrecognised, biologically worsened responses to AI policy during a crucial period for the field? 

Equally, could this affect responses to other, perhaps previously more manageable risks? E.g. for nuclear risks, with admittedly arbitrary numbers, if each year has a 1% pre-Covid risk of nuclear war, if Covid-related cognitive decline shifted this risk to even something like 1.1% per year, even small risk increases could still be significant for such a strong potential negative. 


As potential counterpoints, perhaps Covid-related cognitive decline just isn't that serious, but with perhaps hidden long-term consequences of many multiple infections not yet showing significantly and there also being a 60% increased risk of developing a new mental illness after infection, perhaps both raw intelligence decline, combined with mental health shifts, is worth considering? 

However, perhaps population cognitive decline doesn't have enough of an effect on decision-making to be significant, or there are genuinely significant cognitive declines among key decision-makers, but these are being counterbalanced by other organisational, health and tech improvements?

Future considerations

Finally, if Covid-related decline is a serious possibility over repeat, even seemingly mild, infections, might it even be helpful, most other things being equal, to draw key decision-makers and policy specialists disproportionately from among those who have had fewer infections, or those who appear to be genetically resistant to even first infections?

My intuition is that, something just feels wrong or missing from this line of reasoning, but with AI regulation and alignment perhaps already being poorly managed by governments, could our efforts to avert a larger, existential crisis still be hampered by the lingering effects of our last global crisis?

What a great post- this was really interesting and we really should place a higher value on everyday friendship, as well as sometimes just valuing common humanity above an overly rational view of future good that might ultimately fail by dismissing some important human factors as trivial. And I'm definitely up for a friendship religion too. (Ok, I suppose that's technically the Quakers already, but I know what you mean!)

Also, you're a great writer and just come across as really personable and entertaining. I'm going to be slightly disappointed whenever a serious discussion of longtermism on here doesn't also include at least one Saweetie reference now!

Thank you for a great and detailed summary of the issue Siebe! 

As recent developments seem like quite a major improvement (even if at least temporarily)- for the Nov 22 update to new cases, are any major causes emerging yet for the increase in less than one year recoveries and reduction in severe LC cases? And when over the next few years would you expect the numbers to grow significantly, as a rough estimate?

Less positively, I really agree about the potential for cognitive decline via asymptomatic LC to impact decision-making of those in power. If most people, including those in power, get Covid and even mild cases might cause a small intelligence drop, if enough potentially hazardous situations happen, even this small decline could be enough to tip the balance in an international crisis. Even if this might be bad and not disastrous in some arenas and some mistakes can be corrected, perhaps just one miscalculation is most worrying for potential nuclear diplomacy/crises? (E.g. if Stanislav Petrov helped to save the world from an accidental nuclear war by quickly reaching the conclusions that a system malfunction was more likely than a small enemy nuclear first-strike, might a future 'mild/moderate brain fog Petrov' not  interpret any unexpected information quite so well?)

On treatment, do you have any opinion on Low Dose Naltrexone, which many ME/CFS sufferers have found beneficial and, according to at least some very preliminary evidence, might be useful for LC? And as a final question, though I don't doubt there's a significant drop, do you also know if there are any good studies on the average happiness/life satisfaction loss of LC sufferers? 

Either way, I hope you're feeling as good as possible with your LC experience (from someone with previous/managed experience of ME/CFS) and thanks again for a great post.