Paul_Christiano

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Updating on Nuclear Power

And here's the initial post (which seems a bit less reasonable, since I'd spent less time learning about what was going on):

Given current trends in technology and policy, solar panels seem like the easiest way to make clean electricity (and soon the easiest way to make energy at all). I’m interested in thinking/learning about what a 100% solar grid would look like.

Here are my own guesses.

(I could easily imagine this being totally wrong because I’m a layperson who has only spent a little while looking into this. I’m not going to have “I think caveats” in front of *every* sentence but you should imagine them there.)

Overall I was surprised by how economical all-solar seems. Given 10-20 years and moderate progress on solar+storage I think it probably makes sense to use solar power for everything other than space heating, for which it seems like we should probably just continue to use natural gas. I was surprised by how serious and isolated a problem space heating seemed to be.

Other forms of power like nuclear or fusion might be even better, but it feels like all-solar will still be cheaper and easier than the status quo and won’t require any fossil fuels at all. Issues with storage would create big fluctuations in the price of electricity, which would change the way we use and think about electricity but would not change the basic cost-benefit analysis.

ETA: feels like the main problem is if there's variability in how dark winters are and some of them are quite dark. This is related to the heating issue, but might be a big problem even for non-heating needs.

1. Night vs day

It looks like the costs of overnight energy storage will eventually dominate the costs of solar, but still be low enough to easily beat out other power sources.

For example, the cost of a Tesla powerwall like $400/kWH; they can be cycled 5000 times under warranty. If you did that every night for 15 years it’s a total cost of $0.08/kWH stored. The cost of battery storage has fallen by a factor of 3 over the last 5 years and seems likely to continue to fall, and I expect utility-scale prices to also fall to keep up roughly with batteries.

Here are some cost projections of $400/kWH in 2020 falling to $200/kWH in 2030: https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy20osti/75385.pdf. Here is a description of historical costs that finds them falling from $2150/kWH to $625/kWH in 2018: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=45596. Overall it looks to me like the $200/kWH looks pretty realistic

(ETA: I now think that forecast is probably pretty conservative and $100/kWH or less is more likely. But the rest of the post doesn't depend on such aggressive estimates, except for the part where I talk about heating.)

The efficiency of storage is 90%+ which is high enough to not matter much compared to the cost of storage, especially as solar prices fall.

Current electricity prices are around $0.10/kWH. So at $0.08/kWH solar couldn’t be quite competitive, but another factor of 2-4 could easily do it (especially if other costs of solar continue to fall to negligible levels at their current very rapid clip). I haven’t seen anyone projecting batter prices to plateau before hitting those levels.

Overall the trends on storage are worse than on panels themselves; it’s already the biggest cost of an all-solar grid and I think it would just become totally dominant. But they still seem low enough to make it work.

Storage is a lot cheaper if you are using some of your electricity directly from panels (as under the status quo) and need to store <100% of your power. You’d only need 100% in the worst case where all solar power arrives in a burst at noon, and the real world isn’t going to be quite that bad.

I could easily imagine cutting this down to only needing to store 50-75% of electricity, which cuts the cost with current technologies to $0.04-0.06/kWH. I think cutting costs in this way would be important in practice, but given that we’re only talking about a factor of 2 it’s not going to make a big difference unless battery costs plateau in the next few years.

Meaningful amounts of solar are only available for ~1/3 of a day (depending on latitude) so if you just used energy constantly and wasted nearly half of the solar power you’d need like 66% storage (depending a lot on latitude and season). Today we have a *lot* of appliances that use electricity a small fraction of their life and that you can run when electricity is cheap; and also most of our needs are when humans are awake and the sun is up. But if you switch to using electricity for more applications and if we industrialize further (as I’d expect) then this will get less possible. Amongst the things that can be shifted, you might as well put them at the peak hours around noon, which helps cut peak losses. (For things like cars and computers with batteries, you can either think of these as flexible appliances or as further reasons.)

That’s a complicated mess of considerations. 50-75% is a rough guess for how much you’d have to store but I’m not at all confident.

Eventually it will be unrealistic to amortize battery costs over 15 years. That said, 30 year interest rates are currently 1% and I think time horizons are changing pretty slowly, so I expect this trend to be much slower than changes in storage costs.

2. Winter vs summer

My impression is that solar panels give like 33% less power in winter than summer (obviously depending a ton on latitude, but that’s a typical value for populated places). Storing energy across seasons seems completely impractical.

That sounds like a lot but even in the worst case it only increases the cost of solar power by 50%, since you can just build 50% more panels. That doesn’t seem like enough overhead to make a fundamental difference.

Most importantly, this doesn’t increase the number of batteries you need. You will have enough batteries to store power in the winter, and then in the summer you will have a ton of extra production that you can't store and so use in some low-value way. So if batteries are the dominant cost, you don’t even care.

I think this is the main answer, and the rest of this section is gravy. But as in the last section, the “gravy” could still cut costs by 10% or more, so I think people will care a lot about it and it will change the way we relate to electricity. So also interesting to talk about.

Here are some guesses about what you could scale up in the summer:

* You can run some machines only during the summer, e.g. if the main cost of your computer was the cost of running it (rather than capital costs) then you might as well scale down your datacenters in the winter. Of course, you probably wanted to move that kind of machine towards the equator anyway where electricity prices would be lower.

* You could imagine literally migrating your machines to wherever the power is cheap (e.g. moving your datacenter to the other hemisphere for the winter). This sounds a bit crazy but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it works for a non-negligible % of energy. Perhaps the simplest case would be moving vehicles and having people travel more during their summer.

* There are lots of small tweaks on the margin, e.g. using 10% more energy during the summer than you would if electricity was constant-price and using 10% less energy during the winter. You can do everything a bit slower and more efficient when it gets colder.

These things are interesting to think about—I like the image of a civilization that hums to life during the summer days—but it doesn’t seem like it changes the calculation for feasibility of solar at all. You could just totally ignore all of this and pay a small premium, from 0% (if batteries dominate anyway) to +50%. Some of these changes would happen from the most cost-conscious customers.

3. Other fluctuation and peaking power

In addition to winter/summer and night/day there is also some variability from weather day-to-day. My impression is that this is a smaller deal than the other two factors and doesn’t change the calculus much for a few reasons:

* As discussed in the last section, you probably want to have too many panels anyway and be bottlenecked by storage. In that case, variability in weather doesn’t matter much since you have too much capacity most days.

* It only really potentially matters in the winter months with already-low light, where you may fall short on total production (and not even be able to charge batteries).

* But once you are talking about a small fraction of the year, it’s pretty cheap for some people to just turn off the power (e.g. scaling down my datacenter) from time to time. If I’m doing that for 5% of the year it effectively increases capital costs by 5%, which is only really a problem if electricity costs are a tiny fraction of my net expenses. And there only have to be a few industries that can do that. So we only have a problem if the all-solar grid is serving every industry exceptionally well (in which case the absolute size of my problem is quite small).

There are also fluctuations in demand. In general having variable demand seems like it’s probably good, since by passing on costs appropriately you can shift demand to times when power is available. But big exogenous changes could cause trouble. This seems to be by far most troubling at the scale of days rather than hours (since you have a ton of batteries to handle within-day variability).

I think most people can avoid huge fluctuations in demand most of the time---there just aren’t that many things that bounce around from day to day where I have very little control over when they happen. The big exception I know about is climate control—people want to use a lot more power for AC during hot days and for heating during cold days (if we move away from natural gas for heating).

AC isn’t a problem, because it happens during hot summer days when you have tons of extra power anyway. So that brings us to...

4. Heating

Heating during cold periods seems like a big problem. As far as I can see it's the biggest single problem with an all-solar grid (with all-electric heating)

Unfortunately, I think heating is a giant use of energy (at least in the US). Right now I think it’s almost half of home energy use, mostly natural gas, and I’d guess something like 10-20% of total energy use in the US.

It's also the worst possible case for solar. It’s seasonal, which is already bad, and then there is huge variation in how cold it actually gets. And it’s really bad if you aren’t able to keep things heated during a cold snap. In practice you should just stop other uses of electricity when it gets cold. But with an all-solar grid you aren’t going to be putting many energy-intensive activities in places with cold winters, so you may have less cheap slop than you wanted and blackouts from cold could be quite expensive (even if you literally aren't having people freeze in their homes).

Here are some options:

* Use peaking power plants basically just for heating. It’s crazy to me to imagine the world where this is the *only* reason you actually need peaking power plants. I suspect you don’t want to do this.

* Use natural gas to heat homes. This is appealing because it’s what we currently do so doesn’t require big changes, it’s pretty clean, and you don’t need to maintain a bunch of peaking power plants with significant efficiency losses in transit. I think the main cost is maintaining infrastructure for delivering natural gas.

* Do something creative or develop new technologies. In some sense heating is an incredibly “easy” problem, since anything you do with electricity will generate heat. The problem is just getting it where you want to go. You could move more electricity-consuming appliances into homes/offices you want to heat, or do cogeneration with data centers, or something else crazy.

Here are some reasons the heating cost may not be so bad, so that you may be able to just eat the costs (for any of the above proposals).

* If we are doing a lot of electricity-intensive industry then space heating may be a much smaller fraction of costs. Honestly, I think this whole discussion is mostly relevant if we want to scale up electricity use quite a lot, but I don’t expect to scale up space heating in the same way. So I think it would be reasonable to keep meeting our heating needs in a primitive way while scaling up an all-solar grid for our increasing energy needs.

* You could massively improve insulation over the status quo if heating costs were actually a big deal. Right now heating is a huge fraction of energy but a much smaller fraction of costs. Under an all-solar grid the energy for heating would be by far the most expensive energy, and so incentives to save on heat would be much larger.

* We could generally move to hotter places. They get more appealing as AC gets cheaper / heating is more expensive, and I’m told global warming will make everywhere a bit hotter.

* We could probably modestly improve the energy efficiency of heating by using heat pumps Unfortunately it’s kind of hard to improve efficiency in any other way. And heat pumps are pretty scary since they don’t work when it gets really cold.

Overall my guess is that you should just leave natural gas infrastructure in place, especially in cold places, and use solar for everything else.

Updating on Nuclear Power

No, sorry. Here's a copy-paste though.

Yet another post about solar! This time about land use.

— TL;DR

Suppose that you handle low solar generation winter by just building 3-6x more panels than you need in summer and wasting all the extra power.

1. The price of the required land is about 0.1 cents per kWh (2% of current electricity prices).

2. Despite the cost being low, the absolute amounts of land used are quite large. Replacing all US energy requires 8% of our land, for Japan 30%. This seems reasonably likely to be a political obstacle.

I’m not too confident in any of these numbers, corrections welcome.

— Background

I’ve been wondering about the price of an all-solar grid without any novel storage or firm generation. In my first post I proposed having enough batteries for 1-2 days, and said that buying that many batteries seemed affordable (https://www.facebook.com/paulfchristiano/posts/10226561810329293). In the second I argued that emergency natural gas you never actually use looked like it was totally affordable (https://www.facebook.com/paulfchristiano/posts/10226568532377340).

A potential drawback of the all solar plan is that you *massively* overbuild panels so that you have enough generation in the winter months. This isn’t too expensive because most of your capital cost was storage anyway. But it does mean you use a boatload of land. I wanted to understand that better. See the TL;DR above for my conclusions.

After this post, I think the biggest unresolved question for me is how variable cloud cover is during the winter—I know that large solar installations are pretty consistent at the scale of months (and can fall back to emergency natural gas in the rare cases where they aren’t). But is it the case that e.g. there is frequently a bad 4-day stretch in January where the average solar generation across Japan is significantly reduced?

My second biggest question is about the feasibility and cost of large-scale transmission, both to smooth out that kind of short-term variability and to supply power further north.

— A note on location

The feasibility of this depends a ton on where you are. I’m going to start by talking about the largest US solar farms in the southwest. I believe the situation gets about 2x worse if you move to the US northeast or northern Europe.

If you go further north it gets even more miserable---wintertime solar is much more sensitive to latitude than summer solar. I'd guess that people in the US northeast should already be importing power from sunnier places, to say nothing of Canada. I don’t know how politically realistic that is. If you didn’t have backup natural gas it sounds insane, but if everyone is just building backup natural gas anyway I think it might be OK.

— Efficiency of solar

I looked up the Topaz solar farm (info taken from wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topaz_Solar_Farm).

Setting aside its first year while panels were still be installed, its worst month was December of 2016 were it generated about 57 million kWh.

The “overbuild panels” plan requires us to build enough panels that we’d be OK even in the deepest winter. If we pessimistically assume that all of the excess power is completely wasted, that means you get about 684 million kWh per year.

The site area is 7.3 square miles. So in total we are getting about 94 million kWh per square mile per year. (Or 145 thousand kWh per acre).

I got almost identical numbers for McCoy solar installation.

I think you could push the numbers somewhat higher, perhaps a factor of 2, by economizing more on land (check out that picture of Topaz solar farm from space, tons of room to improve density), improving panel efficiency (once panel costs are no longer a major expense you can focus on efficiency rather than price), and focusing on winter generation. When I did this calculation on paper I got numbers 2-4 higher than the practical ones.

I’m going to just round the number up to 100 million kWh to make things simple. In reality you’d probably increase density above this but may also be pushed to use worse sites, so this seems fine for the headline figures.

— How much land is needed in the US?

In 2020 the US used about 100 quadrillion BTUs of power (mostly oil and natural gas), a bit less than 3e13 kWh: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts.

If we pretend it was always midwinter, this would require 300,000 square miles. This is about 8% of all the land in the US.

To help understand what this means, this site gives us the total breakdown of US land. I don’t trust it totally but I think it’s roughly right. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/america-land-use/

* 842,000 square miles of forest

* 750,000 square miles of shrub

* 530,000 square miles of farmland

* 530,000 square miles of grassland (I assume this breakdown was just made up?)

* 400,000 square miles of other nature

* 63,000 square miles of cities

— How expensive is that land?

Suppose that we put solar farms on cropland. The cost of 1 acre of farmland in the US is about $3000. Renting an acre of unirrigated land is about $140/year. (https://www.nass.usda.gov/.../land-values-cash-rents.pdf)

Pasture is quite a lot cheaper than that, and you’d only have to use ~50% of the US pasture to put in all this solar. So I think $140/acre/year is pretty conservative.

Above we estimated that an acre generated 145,000 kWh per year.

So even if you are renting farmland, and *throwing away all power above the amount generated in midwinter*, the price is only a tenth of a cent per kWh. That’s about 50x lower than the current price of power. So it won’t be a large part of the price until you are dropping electricity costs by 10x or more.

— What about Japan?

Japan uses about 386 million tons of oil equivalent per year, or 4.5e12 kWh. By the same calculation that would require about 45,000 square miles. (I think Japan has fewer good solar sites than the southwest US, so they’ll be leaning more on the hope that you can squeeze more density out of installations).

The area of Japan is about 145,000 square miles. So this is about 30% of the total area. Right now in Japan I believe essentially all of this would have to come from clearing forest. The cost of clearing that land isn’t significant (and it’s not any more expensive than cropland), but I expect people would be unhappy about losing 1/3 of their forest.

— Other thoughts

These proposals involving wasting 65-85% of all the generation. If you are able to use more electricity on summer days, that helps a lot, as discussed in previous posts. The most obvious way this happens is if you can synthesize fuel, and energy costs of synthesis are dominant rather than capital costs. That would be a game-changer for the all-solar grid (as well as removing the need to electrify all your cars and planes).

I’ve ignored increasing energy usage. That seems kind of reasonable because I’ve discussed the US and Japan, two countries with relatively high energy use that has been declining in recent years. But big increases in energy use would change the picture.

In the long run it does seem like floating solar over the ocean could be quite important. But I have no idea how to think about the costs for that, and especially energy transport.

Depending on the design of your panels, putting down this many could change significantly heat the earth just by absorbing sunlight. This is on the same order of magnitude as the heat generated by running appliances (e.g. the heat generated by the engine of your car and the friction of your wheels against pavement), but if your panel is 20% efficient then I think it probably ends up about 2-3x bigger. I don’t normally think about e.g. space heaters contributing to global warming by literally heating up the house. It does seem like a consideration but I’d like to better understand how it compares.

If clearing forests or pasture, it seems important not to release all that carbon into the atmosphere. My guess would have been that most of this land would be at rough equilibrium and so this isn’t going to have a CO2 effect (assuming you don’t burn the biomass or let it rot), but I’d be interested to know, and am not sure if that’s feasible.

Updating on Nuclear Power

This does require prices going down. I think prices in many domains have gone up (a lot) over the last few years, so it doesn't seem like a lot of evidence about technological progress for solar panels. (Though some people might take it as a warning shot for long-running decay that would interfere with a wide variety of optimistic projections from the past.)

I think it's not clear whether non-technological factors get cheaper or more expensive at larger scales. Seems to me like "expected cost is below current electricity costs" is a reasonable guess, but ">75% chance of being economically feasible" is not.

My current understanding is that there are plenty of the relevant minerals (and in many cases there is a lot of flexibility about exactly what to use), and so this seems unlikely to be a major driver of cost over the very long term even if short-term supply is relatively inelastic. (Wasn't this the conclusion last time we had a thread on this?)

Updating on Nuclear Power

I wrote a series of posts on the feasibility of an all-solar grid last year, here (it links to two prior posts).

Overall my tentative conclusion was:

  • It's economically feasible to go all solar without firm generation, at least in places at the latitude of the US (further north it becomes impossible, you'd need to import power).
  • The price of the land required for all-solar production seems very small.
  • However, the absolute amount of land required is nonetheless quite large. In the US building enough solar to supply all energy needs through a cloudy winter would be something like 8% of land; in Japan 30%+.
  • I expect this to be a serious political obstacle even if it's not an economic obstacle. (Though in extreme cases like Japan it may also become an economic obstacle since you have to move to increasingly marginal + expensive land.)
  • So in practice I expect most countries to need alternatives to solar for winter generation, at least in places at the latitude of the US  (closer to the equator it  becomes easier).
  • If you have alternatives for winter generation (or long-term storage), the land requirements fall by something like 3-5x. Winter vs summer isn't nearly as big a deal for total costs as for land use (since so much of the all-in cost is batteries and other infrastructure) (ETA: don't see where that 3-5x number came from, might be right but take this bullet with a grain of salt. I do think it's a big factor but maybe not that big?)
  • It seems like all-solar is mostly economically and technically feasible, though in addition to lots of land it requires modest further improvements in battery prices, maintaining back-up natural gas to use once a decade (which is relatively cheap), and building long-distance transmission (which is again affordable but likely to be prohibitively difficult politically).

It was interesting to me that "political feasibility" and "economic feasibility" seemed to come apart so strongly in this case.

Not sure if all of that is right, but overall it significantly changed my sense of the economics and real obstacles to renewable power.

Is AI safety still neglected?

Regarding susceptibility to s-risk:

  • If you keep humans around, they can decide on how to respond to threats and gradually improve their policies as they figure out more (or their AIs figure out more).
  • If you build incorrigible AIs who will override human preferences (so that a threatened human has no ability to change the behavior of their AI), while themselves being resistant to threats, then you may indeed reduce the likelihood of threats being carried out.
  • But in practice all the value is coming from you solving "how do we deal with threats?" at the same time that you solved the alignment problem.
  • I don't think there's any real argument that solving CEV or ambitious value learning per se helps with these difficulties, except insofar as your AI was able to answer these questions. But in that case a corrigible AI could also answer those questions.
  • Humans may ultimately build incorrigible AI for decision-theoretic reasons, but I think the decision should do so should probably be separated from solving alignment.
  • I think the deepest coupling comes from the fact that the construction of incorrigible AI is itself an existential risk, and so it may be extremely harmful to build technology that enables that prior to having norms and culture that are able to use it responsibly.
  • Overall, I'm much less sure than you that "making it up as you go along alignment" is bad for s-risk.
Against cash benchmarking for global development RCTs

When we eventually told the cash arm participants that we had given other households assets of the same value, most said they would have preferred the assets, “We don’t have good products to buy here”. We had also originally planned to work in 2 countries but ended up working in just 1, freeing up enough budget to pay for cash. 

I'm intuitively drawn to cash transfer arms, but "just ask the participants what they would want" also sounds very compelling for basically the same reasons. Ideally you could do that both before and after ("would you recommend other families take the cash or the asset?")

Have you done or seen systematic analysis along these lines? How do you feel about that idea?

Asking about the comparison to cash also seems like a reasonable way to do the comparison even if you were running both arms (i.e. you could ask both groups whether they'd prefer $X or asset Y, and get some correction for biases to prefer/disprefer the option they actually received).

Maybe direct comparison surveys also give you a bit more hope of handling timing issues, depending on how biased you think participants are by recency effects.  If you give someone an asset that pays off over multiple years, I do expect their "cash vs asset" answers to change over time. But still people can easily imagine getting the cash now and so if nothing else it seems like a strong sanity check if you ask asset-recipients in 2 years and confirm they prefer the asset.

At a very basic intuitive level, hearing "participants indicated strong preference for receiving our assets to receiving twice as much cash" feels more persuasive than comparing some measured outcome between the two groups (at least for this kind of asset transfer program where it seems reasonable to defer to participants about what they need/want)

ARC is hiring alignment theory researchers

Compared to MIRI: We are trying to align AI systems trained using techniques like modern machine learning. We're looking for solutions that are (i) competitive, i.e. don't make the resulting AI systems much weaker, (ii) work no matter how far we scale up ML, (iii) work for any plausible situation we can think of, i.e. don't require empirical assumptions about what kind of thing ML systems end up learning. This forces us to confront many of the same issues at MIRI, though we are doing so in a very different style that you might describe as "algorithm-first" rather than "understanding-first." You can read a bit about our methodology in "My research methodology" or this section of our ELK writeup.

I think that most researchers at MIRI don't think that this goal is achievable, at least not without some kind of philosophical breakthrough. We don't have the same intuition (perhaps we're 50-50). Some of the reasons: it looks to us like there are a bunch of possible approaches for making progress, there aren't really any clear articulations of fundamental obstacles that will cause those approaches to fail, and there is extremely little existing work pursuing plausible worst-case algorithms. Right now it mostly seems like people just have varying intuitions, but searching for a worst-case approach seems like it's a good deal as long as there's a reasonable chance it's possible. (And if we fail we expect to learn something about why.)

Compared to everyone else: We think of a lot of possible algorithms, but we can virtually always rule it out without doing any experiments.  That means we are almost always doing theoretical research with pen and paper. It's not obvious whether a given algorithm works in practice, but it usually is obvious that there exist plausible situations where it wouldn't work, and we are searching (optimistically) for something that works in every plausible situation.

Forecasting transformative AI: what's the burden of proof?

So I'd much rather people focus on the claim that "AI will be really, really big" than "AI will be bigger than anything else which comes afterwards".

I think AI is much more likely to make this the most important century than to be "bigger than anything else which comes afterwards." Analogously, the 1000 years after the IR are likely to be the most important millennium even though it seems basically arbitrary whether you say the IR is more or less important than AI or the agricultural revolution. In all those cases, the relevant thing is that a significant fraction of all remaining growth and technological change is likely to occur in the period, and many important events are driven by growth or tech change.

The answer to this question could change our estimate of P(this is the most important century) by an order of magnitude

I think it's more likely than not that there will be future revolutions as important TAI, but there's a good probability that AI leads to enough acceleration that a large fraction of future revolutions occur in the same century. There's room for the debate over the exact probability and timeline for such acceleration, but I think no real way to argue for anything as low as 10%.

All Possible Views About Humanity's Future Are Wild

We were previously comparing two hypotheses:

  1. HoH-argument is mistaken
  2. Living at HoH

Now we're comparing three:

  1. "Wild times"-argument is mistaken
  2. Living at a wild time, but HoH-argument is mistaken
  3. Living at HoH

"Wild time" is almost as unlikely as HoH. Holden is trying to suggest it's comparably intuitively wild, and it has pretty similar anthropic / "base rate" force.

So if your arguments look solid,  "All futures are wild" makes hypothesis 2 look kind of lame/improbable---it has to posit a flaw in an argument, and also that you are living at a wildly improbable time. Meanwhile, hypothesis 1 merely has to posit a flaw in an argument, and hypothesis 3 merely has to a posit HoH (which is only somewhat more to swallow than a wild time).

So now if you are looking for errors, you probably want to focus for errors in the argument that we are living at a "wild time." Realistically, I think you probably need to reject the possibility that the stars are real and that it is possible for humanity to spread to them. In particular, it's not too helpful to e.g. be skeptical of some claim about AI timelines or about our ability to influence society's trajectory.

This is kind of philosophically muddled because (I think) most participants in this discussion already accept a simulation-like argument that "Most observers like us are mistaken about whether it will be possible for them to colonize the stars." If you set aside the simulation-style arguments, then I think the "all futures are wild" correction is more intuitively compelling.

(I think if you tell people "Yes, our good skeptical epistemology allows us to be pretty confident that the stars don't exist" they will have a very different reaction than if you tell them "Our good skeptical epistemology tells us that we aren't the most influential people ever.")

Taboo "Outside View"

I do think my main impression of insect <-> simulated robot parity comes from very fuzzy evaluations of insect motor control vs simulated robot motor control (rather than from any careful analysis, of which I'm a bit more skeptical though I do think it's a relevant indicator that we are at least trying to actually figure out the answer here in a way that wasn't true historically). And I do have only a passing knowledge of insect behavior, from watching youtube videos and reading some book chapters about insect learning. So I don't think it's unfair to put it in the same reference class as Rodney Brooks' evaluations to the extent that his was intended as a serious evaluation.

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