49Joined Dec 2019


I am also MikkW on Lesswrong. I write more there than I do on here, especially on Shortform


In this case "improve gradually over time" could take place over the course of a few days or even a few hours. So it's not actually antithetical to FOOM

Natural selection is the ultimate selector. Any meta-system that faces this problem will be continually outcompeted and replaced by meta-systems that either have an architecture that can better mitigate this failure mode, or that have beliefs that are minimally detrimental to its unfolding when this failure mode occurs (in my evaluation, the first is much more likely than the second)

Given that much of existential risk is made up of human-caused events stemming from issues that can be mitigated by policy and better governance, this intervention is even more important.

This logic is also the core intuition behind why I've been so passionate about voting reform (and social choice reform in general). Some thoughts:

For better voting methods to translate into better risk policy, I assume that it'd be necessary for the public to strongly desire to fix the problem. In the case of climate change, we see a strong movement to address that [1], so I wouldn't be surprised to see Approval electing representatives who are much better at addressing climate problems than those elected under choose-one voting (or Instant Runoff / Ranked Choice, which is basically iterated choose-one voting, and suffers from many, but not all of the same flaws).

However, when it comes to biorisk security and AI-notkilleveryoneism, I am concerned that the public is not nearly passionate enough about these issues to improve our governance on these issues. That said, there are two dynamics that might end up making Approval beneficial anyways. The first, is that Approval might increase the bandwidth of the Overton window / what people feel comfortable being politically passionate about. Choose-one voting naturally makes elections a choice between two major candidates, and this turns elections into a tug-of-war along a one-dimensional axis. Issues that are orthogonal to this axis will not be relevant, and people who are passionate about such orthogonal issues are, in my observations, perceived as "weird" by most people.

Because Approval can support elections that are competitive across many issues at once, this may give voters an incentive to be passionate about issues they currently are not passionate about under choose-one, and this would propogate to representatives (the propagation would be faster than we currently observe under Choose-one)

Secondly, even if this dynamic does not play out, the existing concern about climate change and nuclear weapons could end up (with Approval) giving politicians an incentive to take more action against these risks, and that some of that action may end up translating to a framework designed to handle existential risk in general. I feel more cynical about that possibility, but if there's even a partial manifestation of the first dynamic I name, that might be able to push it over the edge to actually make a difference.

Or Approval might just end up being more of a nothing-burger. In my head, the arguments for why it will help make sense, but it's possible after we run the experiment of actually getting it implemented, it helps with less than I hope it can help with. But that's not the most likely outcome in my estimation, and in any case, it's important to invest in actually implementing Approval in the real world, to see how things actually play out.

[1] We also observe a strong backlash to this movement, but my model is that this is a consequence of the impact the currently prevalent choose-one voting system has on our political system. Duverger's law translates a choose-one system into politics that are more-or-less polarized into two camps. When one of these camps is passionate about an issue, and becomes associated with that issue, members of the opposing camp end up being incentivized (for signaling reasons) to downplay the issue, and even to take a vocal opposing stance on the issue, even if that opposing stance is poorly justified.

I expect that under Approval, this dynamic will not at all play out, due to the centripetal (centre-finding) nature of the voting system.

I'm curious how much good can be done by setting up / funding Public Goods Markets (that is, quadratic funding) for the residents of developing countries

UBI does not create value, it merely redistributes it. It does not guarantee that there is enough for everybody, it merely helps ensure that when there is already enough (thanks to the workings of the free market), everybody has access to some part of that value

A note: This was written mostly 8 months ago, and I no longer entirely endorse everything I say in this essay (though I broadly agree with the main thesis that PGMs are worth investing time and energy to promote and create). I have cut the most egregrious parts I no longer endorse, and have lightly edited some other parts, however I haven’t spent a significant amount of time reworking this, and some parts are left being less precise than I would desire; however, I feel that most of the points in this essay are worth making and reading, and I have other things that I need to do other than work on this post; I have chosen to spend a few hours revisiting this essay, as opposed to allowing this to sit forever in my notes unpublished, and present it as it is. Hopefully what I have said on the subject is of use, and I apologize that I haven't made it more thorough than it currently is.

In practice, states decide how to vote in both congressional and presidential elections (Maine for example, uses ranked choice for both). It is true that getting rid of the electoral college requires a federal amendment, but the electoral college isn't actually that bad; the big problems can be solved within its framework

Tl;dr: We should argue before the election, and build a consensus when it's time to actually get stuff done

I don't think reducing (tribal) polarization is at odds with agonism. There's plenty of room for healthy debate about what direction we should go in, but when in comes to actually deciding who has power, we want to track the median of what people think, not sway back and forth between two extremes (which is a compromise in and of itself)

I think it's worth being aware of lock-in effects; while I agree that it's unproductive to put down alternative approaches, it's also important to do what we can to avoid locking in a suboptimal choice- if Ranked Choice gets locked in over Approval Voting, and if Approval is actually better, it may be very hard to change it in the future, leading to much long-term disutility, perhaps even more than if the shift away from FPTP takes a little longer in the process of getting it right.

But I do agree that bickering and putting alternatives down probably isn't the best way to mitigate lock-in

From a total view, I think this does outline a potentially compelling case against the climate change argument, but I don't think it's compelling from an average point of view. Even from an in-between perspective (which I think roughly represents my feelings) which evaluates overall welfare as the product of average quality of life times the square root of population, it seems that marginal hits to the climate may outweigh marginal gains in quality of life.

Even from a totalist POV, it's important to consider lives with negative value. It matters where the line is drawn- some people may feel all lives have positive valence, others may set a high standard, and say that a life with positive valence must have very little suffering, even an absence of suffering that may be fairly unheard of in modern life. By having children, you might increase the value that your life contributes to overall welfare, and contribute the lives of your children, but have an impact on many people which changes their lives from making a positive contribution to a negative contribution, or greatly increases the suffering of a person who already has a negative-valence life.

This certainly isn't to say that I think you're wrong - I think the structure of your argument may be usable to make a compelling case which addresses my concerns, and in general I do feel (though am not certain) that on net, the average person will contribute more to other's well-being than they take away.

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