«If we are the only rational beings in the Universe, as some recent evidence suggests, it matters even more whether we shall have descendants or successors during the billions of years in which that would be possible. Some of our successors might live lives and create worlds that, though failing to justify past suffering, would have given us all, including those who suffered most, reasons to be glad that the Universe exists.» — Derek Parfit

Pablo_Stafforini's Comments

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

Which of the EA-related views you hold are the least popular within the EA community?

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

Have you considered doing a joint standup comedy show with Nick Bostrom?

The 80,000 Hours podcast should host debates

I'm happy to hear that you are keen on the anti-debates idea! I suggested it to the EA Global organizers a few years ago, but it seems they weren't very interested. (Incidentally, the idea isn't Will's, or mine; it dates back at least to this debate between David Chalmers and Guido Tononi from 2016.)

A possible variant is to randomize whether the debate will or will not be reversed, and challenge the audience to guess whether the debaters are arguing for their own positions or their opponents', disclosing the answer only at the end of the episode. (In some cases, or for some members of the audience, the answer will be obvious from background information about the debaters, but it's unclear how often this will be the case.)

EDIT: I now see that I misunderstood what was meant by an 'anti-debate': not a debate where each person defends the opposite side, but rather a debate that is collaborative rather than competitive. I personally would be interested in anti-debates in either of those senses.

Forecasting Newsletter: June 2020

A new, Ethereum-based prediction market has launched: Polymarket. It even features a question about Slate Star Codex and the New York Times. I tried it and it was pretty easy to set up. (I have no affiliation or with the owner.)

Modeling the Human Trajectory (Open Philanthropy)

The latest edition of the Alignment Newsletter includes a good summary of Roodman's post, as well as brief comments by Nicholas Joseph and Rohin Shah:

Modeling the Human Trajectory (David Roodman) (summarized by Nicholas): This post analyzes the human trajectory from 10,000 BCE to the present and considers its implications for the future. The metric used for this is Gross World Product (GWP), the sum total of goods and services produced in the world over the course of a year.
Looking at GWP over this long stretch leads to a few interesting conclusions. First, until 1800, most people lived near subsistence levels. This means that growth in GWP was primarily driven by growth in population. Since then population growth has slowed and GWP per capita has increased, leading to our vastly improved quality of life today. Second, an exponential function does not fit the data well at all. In an exponential function, the time for GWP to double would be constant. Instead, GWP seems to be doubling faster, which is better fit by a power law. However, the conclusion of extrapolating this relationship forward is extremely rapid economic growth, approaching infinite GWP as we near the year 2047.
Next, Roodman creates a stochastic model in order to analyze not just the modal prediction, but also get the full distribution over how likely particular outcomes are. By fitting this to only past data, he analyzes how surprising each period of GWP was. This finds that the industrial revolution and the period after it was above the 90th percentile of the model’s distribution, corresponding to surprisingly fast economic growth. Analogously, the past 30 years have seen anomalously lower growth, around the 25th percentile. This suggests that the model's stochasticity does not appropriately capture the real world -- while a good model can certainly be "surprised" by high or low growth during one period, it should probably not be consistently surprised in the same direction, as happens here.
In addition to looking at the data empirically, he provides a theoretical model for how this accelerating growth can occur by generalizing a standard economic model. Typically, the economic model assumes technology is a fixed input or has a fixed rate of growth and does not allow for production to be reinvested in technological improvements. Once reinvestment is incorporated into the model, then the economic growth rate accelerates similarly to the historical data.
Nicholas's opinion: I found this paper very interesting and was quite surprised by its results. That said, I remain confused about what conclusions I should draw from it. The power law trend does seem to fit historical data very well, but the past 70 years are fit quite well by an exponential trend. Which one is relevant for predicting the future, if either, is quite unclear to me.
The theoretical model proposed makes more sense to me. If technology is responsible for the growth rate, then reinvesting production in technology will cause the growth rate to be faster. I'd be curious to see data on what fraction of GWP gets reinvested in improved technology and how that lines up with the other trends.
Rohin’s opinion: I enjoyed this post; it gave me a visceral sense for what hyperbolic models with noise look like (see the blog post for this, the summary doesn’t capture it). Overall, I think my takeaway is that the picture used in AI risk of explosive growth is in fact plausible, despite how crazy it initially sounds. Of course, it won’t literally diverge to infinity -- we will eventually hit some sort of limit on growth, even with “just” exponential growth -- but this limit could be quite far beyond what we have achieved so far. See also this related post.
How should we run the EA Forum Prize?

Why don't you conduct an experiment? E.g. you could award prizes only for posts/comments written by users whose usernames start with letters A-L (and whose accounts were created prior to the announcement) and see if you notice any significant difference in the quality of those users' submissions.

Problem areas beyond 80,000 Hours' current priorities

Just to say that I appreciate all the "mini literature reviews" you have been posting!

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