Ramiro's Comments

FHI Report: The Windfall Clause: Distributing the Benefits of AI for the Common Good

I imagined so; but the idea just kept coming to my head, and since I hadn't seen it explicitly stated, I thought it could be worth mentioning.

I think there might be some antitrust problems with that

I agree that, with current legislation, this is likely so.

But let me share a thought: even though we don't have hedge for when one company succeeds so well it ends up dominating the whole market (and ruining all competitors in the process), we do have some compensation schemes (based on specific legislation) for when a company fails, like deposit insurance. The economic literature usually presents it as a public good (they'd decrease the odds of a bank run and so increase macroeconomic stability), but it was only accepted by the industry because it solved a lemons problem. Even today, the "green swan" (s. section 2) talk in finances often appeals to the risk of losses in a future global crisis (the Tragedy of the Horizon argument). My impression is that an innovation in financial regulation often starts with convincing banks and institutions that it's in their general self-interest, and then it will become compulsory only to avoid free-riders.

(So, yeah, if tech companies get together with the excuse of protecting their investors (& everyone else in the process) in case of someone dominating the market, that's collusion; if banks do so, it's CSR)

(epistemic status about the claims on deposit insurance: I shoud have made a better investigation in economic history, but I lack the time, the argument is consistent, and I did have first hand experience with the creation of a depositor insurance fund for credit unions - i.e., it didn't mitigate systemic risk, it just solved depositors risk-aversion)

Thoughts on improving governance in developing countries

Thanks for your post. I'm from a developing country and, after living some months in Europe, I couldn't stop thinking about this subject. Things like "why don't they have any holes in the streets pavement?"; it evoked me Cixin Liu's Dark Forest, when humans first meet the "droplet and are astonished by its perfect flatness.

Let me add some non-structured remarks:

  • I think your "three sources of bad governance" are still too vague to be useful; moreover, they're not totally endemic to developing/poor countries (and even among them, it works in very different ways), and they seem to relate with bad governance (and outcomes) in a feedback loop. I think a good path is to compare many different societies and how they've dealt with those problems, like Acemoglu & Robinson's Why Nations Fail. Focusing on culture (something really hard to change) and how those societies fulfill positions (which ends up depending too much on culture, education and politics) seems to be a better start.
  • I think you've mentioned what seems to me the real problem: developing countries governments (exception: China) are less capable of engaging in long-term planning, particularly to address uncertain risks / outcomes. Some really bad feedback loops explain that: politics (they plan for the next election), urgencies (after you've paid for disaster relief, social security, debt and compulsory spending...) and, of course, culture (there's a beautiful Brazilian samba Felicidade ("Happiness"), with a verse like "we work the whole year for this brief moment, the carnival"). This reflects in education (which usually only pays-off years after reforms are implemented), macroeconomics (higher interest rates), infrastructure (Brazil adopted an annual social discount rate of 10% for infrastructure projects; and, like the example of the pavement, low-quality infrastructure and maintenance is usual), catastrophe prevention, etc.
  • One of the challenges of proposing a reform is how it affects the current status quo; for instance, think of political reform and pension legislation. I wonder if proposing reforms to be implemented years later, so leaving the current status quo unaffected, isn't usually more successful, and if it has been tried in these countries.
  • I think geography is underrated: development concentrates in clusters (it's easier to develop if your neighbor does it, too), and, though almost no one talks about it, seems to be highly correlated with climate (though this might be partly explained by culture + this neighbor effect, but the correlation remains even in the same country). I really hope Sachs's new book casts some light on that. (These spreadsheets I found by googling; I checked only a little bit of the data, so be careful with them)
  • I wonder if someone has ever made anonymous interviews with junior and senior civil officers (and maybe businessmen, too) from these countries about this subject. I'd really like to read it.
  • I think the idea of charter cities is that "it's so hard to change these current inadequate equilibria that we better start anew somewhere else". A micro-revolution. It might work out great in the long-term, for some places - but I don't think it would solve
Ramiro's Shortform

Did anyone see the spread of Covid through nursing homes coming before? It seems quite obvious in hindsight - yet, I didn't even mention it above. Some countries report almost half of the deaths from those environments.

(Would it have made any difference? I mean, would people have emphasized patient safety, etc.? I think it's implausible, but has anyone tested if this isn't just some statistical effect, due to the concentration of old-aged people, with chronic diseases?)

Ramiro's Shortform

Why didn't we have more previous alarm concerning the spread of Covid through care and nursing homes? Would it have made any difference? https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/16/across-the-world-figures-reveal-horrific-covid-19-toll-of-care-home-deaths

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FHI Report: The Windfall Clause: Distributing the Benefits of AI for the Common Good

I wonder if, in addition to the section B.2, the clause could framed as a compensation scheme in favor of a firm's shareholders - at least if it was adopted conditionally to other firms adopting it (a kind of "good cartel"). Since the ex ante probability of one specific firm A obtaining future windfall profits from an AGI is lower than the probability of any of its present or future competitors doing it (so driving A out of business), it might be in the interest of these firms' shareholders to hedge each other by committing to a windfall clause. (Of course, the problem with this argument is that it'd only justify an agreement covering the shareholders of each agreeing firm)

Ramiro's Shortform

Can Longtermists "profit" from short-term bias?

We often think about human short-term bias (and the associated hyperbolic discount) and the uncertainty of the future as (among the) long-termism’s main drawbacks; i.e., people won’t think about policies concerning the future because they can’t appreciate or compute their value. However, those features may actually provide some advantages, too – by evoking something analogous to the effect of the veil of ignorance:

  1. They allow long-termism to provide some sort of focal point where people with different allegiances may converge; i.e., being left- or right-wing inclined (probably) does not affect the importance someone assigns to existential risk – though it may influence the trade-off with other values (think about how risk mitigation may impact liberty and equality).
  2. And (maybe there’s a correlation with the previous point) it may allow for disinterested reasoning – i.e., if someone is hyperbolically less self-interested in what will happen in 50 or 100 years, then they would not strongly oppose policies to be implemented in 50 or 100 years – as long as they don’t bear significant costs today.

I think (1) is quite likely acknowledged among EA thinkers, though I don’t recall it being explicitly stated; some may even reply “isn’t it obvious?”, but I don’t believe outsiders would immediately recognize it.

On the other hand, I’m confident (2) is either completely wrong, or not recognized by most people.If it's true, we could use it to extract from people, in the present, conditional commitments to be enforced in the (relatively) long-term future; e.g., if present investors discount future returns hyperbolically, they wouldn’t oppose something like a Windfall Clause. Maybe Roy's nuke insurance could benefit from this bias, too.

I wonder if this could be used for institutional design; for instance, creating or reforming organizations is often burdensome, because different interest groups compete to keep or expand their present influence and privileges – e.g., legislators will favor electoral reforms allowing them to be re-elected. Thus, if we could design arrangements to be enforced decades (how long?) after their adoption, without interfering with current status quo, we would eliminate a good deal of its opposition; the problem then subsumes to deciding what kind of arrangements would be useful to design this way, taking into account uncertainty, cluelessness, value shift…

Are there any examples of existing or proposed institutions that try to profit from this short-term vs. long-term bias in a similar way? Is there any research in this line I’m failing to follow? Is it worth a longer post?

(One possibility is that we can’t really do that - this bias is something to be fought, not something we can collectively profit from; so, assuming the hinge of history hypothesis is false, the best we can do is to “transfer resources” from the present to the future, as sovereign funds and patient philanthropy advocates already do)

Are we entering an experiment in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)?

I am as perplexed as you are, and I share the doubts you mention in the last paragraphs.

Did you check this at Open Philanthropy?

I'm not sure about how neglected this subject is. However, if there's some sort of optimal monetary theory, this is a very hingy time to find it and implement its policy recommendations.

Maybe you could cite some bibliography. I've recently read and can recommend M. King's The End of Alchemy, SEP Philosophy of Money, and Macmillan's The End of Banking (more focused on finances, but with some good insights and recommendations about monetary theories)

Ramiro's Shortform

Thanks. Maybe it's just my blindspot. I couldn't find anyone discussing this for more than 5min, except for this one. I googled it and found some blogs that are not about what I have in mind

I agree that donating to my favourite charity instead of my friend's favorite one would be unpolite, at least; however, I was thinking about friends who are not EAs, or who don't use to donate at all. It might be a better gift than a card or a lame souvenir, and perhaps interest this friend in EA charities (I try to think about which charity would interest this person most). Is there any reason against it?

I knew a bit about misinformation and fact-checking in 2017. AMA, if you're really desperate.

I've seen some serious stuff on epistemic and memetic warfare. Do you think misinformation in the web has recently been or is currently being used as an effective weapon against countries or peoples? Is it qualitatively different from good old conspiracies and smear campaigns? Do you have some examples? Do standard ways of counter-acting (e.g., fact-checking) can effectively work in the case of an intentional attack (my guess: probably not; an attacker can spread misinformation more effectively than we can spread fact-checking - and warning about it wil increase mistrust and polarization, which might be the goal of the campaign)? What would be your credences on your answers?

Ramiro's Shortform

Is 'donations as gifts' neglected?

I enjoy sending 'donations as gifts' - i.e., donating to GD, GW or AMF in honor of someone else (e.g., as a birthday gift). It doesn't actually affect my overall budget for donations; but this way, I try to subtly nudge this person to consider doing the same with their friends, or maybe even becoming a regular donor.

I wonder if other EAs do that. Perhaps it seems very obvious (for some cultures where donations are common), but I haven't seen any remark or analysis about it (well, maybe I'm just wasting my time: only one friend of mine stated he enjoyed his gift, but I don't think he has ever done it himself), and many organizations don't provide an accessible tool to do this.

P.S.: BTW, my birthday is on May 14th, so if anyone wants to send me one of these "gifts", I'd rather have you donating to GCRI.

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