NunoSempere

I studied Maths and Philosophy, but dropped out. I have helped implement the European Summer Program on Rationality during 2017, 2018 and 2019, and SPARC during 2020.

I like to spend most of my time acquiring deeper models of things, and I keep a record of interesting projects at nunosempere.github.io. I've also sold software and worked as a contractor for various forecasting projects. I'm LokiOdinevich on GoodJudgementOpen, and Loki on CSET-Foretell.

Future of Humanity Institute 2020 Summer Research Fellow.

Sequences

Forecasting Newsletter

Comments

EA Uni Group Forecasting Tournament!

One idea you might want to consider is to steal questions from some more established forecasting platforms, like Metaculus or Good Judgment Open. You could also join foretell, which has a really nice team interface, and compete on their questions.

Quantum computing timelines

Do you have a link for (Grace, 2020) ?

Why do social movements fail: Two concrete examples.

Many of my interests are related to General Semantics, so I'd like to understand it better.

Are you looking for any particular pointers?

What are some low-information priors that you find practically useful for thinking about the world?

As a side-note, the maximum entropy principle would tell you to choose the maximum entropy prior given the information you have, and so if you intuit the information that the balls are likely to be produced by the same process, you'll get a different prior that if you don't have that information.

I.e., your disagreement might stem from the fact that the maximum entropy principle gives different answers conditional on different information.

I.e., you actually have information to differentiate between drawing n balls and flipping a fair coin n times.

When can Writing Fiction Change the World?

I have some notes about this topic, reproduced below, which might be interesting to you. As a thread to pull, you might want to talk with Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg (if she's available), who received a grant from the Long-Term fund to work on "[w]riting EA-themed fiction that addresses X-risk topics" (see the first link in the next section).

Otherwise, Uncle Tom's Cabin did have the effect of inspiring The Clansman and the subsequent film, which were also influential in the opposite direction.


Previous work


Bite sized case studies

The Works of Jules Verne

Object class: Safe

Containment procedure: None.

Description: Jules Verne wrote a series of highly entertaining novels which are still widely read, and inspired countless young people. I had a hunch that Von Braun (described as "the architect of the Moon landings") might have been inspired by Verne, and this hunch was confirmed:

Wernher von Braun, the German-born scientist who became critical to the success of the American space program, hoped the rockets he designed would enable space exploration as described by Verne and H. G. Wells... When von Braun’s Saturn rockets powered the US Mercury and Apollo programs, he gave credit to Verne’s self-fulfilling prophesies: “The science in 1865’s From the Earth to the Moon is nearly as accurate as the knowledge of the time permitted... He was read with great respect by working scientists, so carefully did he do his scientific homework.” According to von Braun’s accounting, “the debt modern astronauts owe Verne is apparent.” Source

Besides nudging Von Braun to have an interest in rockets (as opposed to, say, trains), the works of Jules Verne also inspired plenty of other pioneers (see Wikipedia: Cultural influence of Jules Verne for a full list). This is remarkable in light of other similarly popular writers, which variously wrote about:

  • A daring spy for the British crown fails to have a cooler greeting than Íñigo Montoya.
  • A cynical genius solves criminal mysteries through deductions which wouldn't work in real life.
  • A group of kids travel to a mysterious land which was previously ruled by a lion which represents God.
  • A kid goes to a magical school and fights a villain who wants to be immortal.
  • An attractive yet normal teenager rebels against a pastiche dystopia by going on TV.

Honorable mention:

  • A fellowship seeks to destroy an artifact which offers the user immense power, but which will corrupt and manipulate even the most innocent wielder.

A message to Garcia.

Object Class: Safe

Special Containment Procedures: None. In particular see the Streisand effect. Nonetheless, much like Atlas Shrugged, operatives are cautioned not to expose the wrong 14 year old. In case of exposure with acute negative effects, the speech A More Perfect Union may be prescribed, as it produces a similarly sized effect in a different ideological direction. Nonetheless, the effects of A Message to Garcia are more likely to be mildly positive.

Description: A Message to Garcia is a short publication which narrates a fictionalized historical depiction of a daring adventure by an American soldier. The reader will tend to regard the values of individual initiative and conscientiousness more favorably.

It may also cause the compulsion to share the publication with other people, to sympathize for those parties which are called libertarian in America and liberal in the rest of the world, and to view the works of Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, et al. with less skepticism. The object has been widely shared, and continues to be read, since 1899. As it has reached the internet, containment is now unfeasible.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Object Class: Safe.

Special Containment Procedures: None (see above). Operatives who are not negative utilitarians might want to promptly expose readers to Toby Ord's Why I'm Not a Negative Utilitarian.

Description: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is a short story by famed writer Ursula K. Le Guin. Among utilitarians, it has the effects of making one wonder whether classical utilitarianism might not, after all, be wrong, and whether other ethical systems such as virtue ethics, or negative utilitarianism might be correct after all. Among nonutilitarian demographics, it also sparks heated debate.

The Fable of The Dragon Tyrant.

Object Class: Safe.

Special Containment Procedures: None (see above).

Description: The Fable of The Dragon Tyrant is a short story by Nick Bostrom, in which a dragon savages a land, and the king and the population learn to appease it and, despite it at first being seemingly impossible, kill it. The twist is that at the end of the story the author comments on how the Dragon Tyrant is similar to senescence, and by refraiming death as a Dragon which can be defeated, the reader may be able to overcome cached thoughts, instinctive turns of phrases

It is unclear what the impact of this specific story has been in the Zeitgeist, but I think it has the potential to be shared widely and be as culturally pervasive as the above works of fiction, and that this would be a good thing.


Pathways to impact, some speculation

Most social movements don't survive many generations. OpenPhilantropy looks like they want to donate all of Good Venture's capital, and it's unclear whether they will update in light of Trammel's paper on patient philantropists. If Effective Altruism ceases to exist in a generation or two, or becomes progressively more mediocre, literature can remain.

Given that generation from generation the political and technological landscape changes drastically, it might be difficult to leave specific and concrete advice for our intellectual descendants. They may discover new crucial considerations, or better technologies.

Thus, it is perhaps easier to leave literary breadcrumbs. For example, a sense of scientific wonder, the drive to make the world better and the disposition to do so efficiently, the expansion of one's moral circle. These ideas can be made formidable and long-lasting through literature. More ambitiously, one might try to pull off a Jules Verne and write stories about (beneficial) inventions which might be possible with the technology level of 50 years from now.

And literature is also a positive if your movement doesn't vanish into the ashes. The search for better turns of phrase, more worthy cognitive software, and metaphors which one would want to live by might contribute to our collective flourishing. And literature may also serve to stump, confuse and distract any adversaries, energize your allies, and enchanter the indecisive. Other models of impact exist.

The caveat is Sturgeon's law: that 90% of everything is crap. And of the fraction which is not crap, most is not actually good.

What are some low-information priors that you find practically useful for thinking about the world?

Yes, I think that this corresponds to the German tank problem after you see the first tank.

What are novel major insights from longtermist macrostrategy or global priorities research found since 2015?

there are a few outliers that only get widely recognized after decades, much longer than for typical insights

These sleeping beauties might happen more often the younger a field is. In particular, I don't particularly care that (perhaps lesser) insights are spread quickly once a field is producing a lot of papers.

Anyways, some other examples are Taylor polynomials (!) and various discoveries by Tsiolkovsky on the mechanics of space travel.

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