All of ryan_b's Comments + Replies

What we learned from a year incubating longtermist entrepreneurship

I'd be interested to hear more about the thoughts behind this key lesson:

The LE Project should be divided into several different organizations/efforts, rather than one incubator.

This makes sense to me in light of the different tasks and operational requirements that different purposes are likely to require, but I noticed a theme running through the rest of the report of uncertainty. This included things like funders being uncertain of downside risk; uncertainty about what actions a person with funding should take; an expertise/experience bottleneck for lon... (read more)

EA Debate Championship & Lecture Series

I appreciate this nuanced comparison between formats. I increase my estimation of the goodness of the EA debate project, because this introduces a new pathway to victory:

The creation of an EA debate format, which can be designed against the backdrop of all the poisoned formats to encourage skills and norms more like those we want to develop.

It does feel like the general period for research before the debate would work well for these topics. Do you know if any format has a mechanism for awarding points on the grounds of agreeing with the opponent's points, or otherwise acknowledging when arguments or data weigh against you?

EA Debate Championship & Lecture Series

...that video is deeply absurd, and I am caught between revulsion and laughter. They are clearly way past the point where there is even a gesture at real usefulness; this might be the most heavily gamed thing I have ever seen.

However, if the video is an example I am confident that this activity can't do any real harm to our objectives. Who could do this with even the pretense of thinking they would talk to people in the real world that way? It's just a verbal luge.

Yeah, it’s kinda hilarious. Speaking so fast that your opponents can’t follow your arguments and therefore lose the round is common practice in some forms of competitive debate. But in other debate categories, using this tactic would immediately lose you the round. In my own personal experience of high school debate, the quality of competitive debate depends very heavily on the particular category of debate.

The video above is Policy Debate, the oldest form of debate which degenerated decades ago into unintelligible speed reading and arguments that every po... (read more)

Politics is far too meta

I think talking about political feasibility should never ever be first thing we bring up when debating new ideas.

I think this is much closer to the core problem. If we don't evaluate the object-level at all, our assessment of the political feasibility winds up being wrong.

When I hear people say "politically feasible" what they mean at the object level is "will the current officeholders vote for it and also not get punished in their next election as a result." This ruins the political analysis, because it artificially constrains the time horizon. In turn th... (read more)

Improving Institutional Decision-Making: a new working group

It definitely is, mostly because there are so few successful projects to point to. Most of the work has been identifying what failed projects have in common, and then there are a few shining counterexamples against which they can test. It currently looks like the core insight is that planning needs to shift from controlling things to accounting for things you cannot control: lots of stakeholders (because many are attracted due to the sheer size of the project); black swans (in multi-year construction there is likely to be a bad storm but no telling when); the economy; etc.

Is Democracy a Fad?

I think this argument is harmed by imposing a democracy or dictatorship framework; while I understand the need to simplify, this obscures details that would be useful to us.

Dictatorship is pretty firmly anchored in fascism and communism, which depended strongly on effective centralized bureaucracies and rule of law to work. The kinds of things which could be accomplished by dictators of this era was simply beyond the scope or precision of all but a few rulers in the premodern eras.

I think following the thread of economic arguments is very valuable. In the ... (read more)

Is pursuing EA entrepreneurship becoming more costly to the individual?

And if you don't have much status, no one will recognize a worthy attempt in case of failure.

This is a fairly harsh indictment of community norms. It directly implies there is nothing different about EA norms in this dimension relative to society at large, which is kind of a problem because there are well-known areas with superior norms; a well conducted trial reflects well on lawyers even when they lose.

Doesn't make it wrong, naturally. But if true, it seems like it would definitely merit specific attention from the group.

Notes on "The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War" (2020)

they seem to be saying/implying things more like "The US doesn't need any nuclear weapons, and having them has no benefits at all"

Does Kaplan speak at all about how the US would otherwise deter a USSR invasion of our European allies? Things like alternative proposals for deterrence, or arguments that NATO was superior in an immediate conventional conflict, or similar?

My understanding of the beginning of nuclear deterrence policy is that it was the cheaper option compared to maintaining a sufficiently huge air and transport capacity to respond rapidly to a ... (read more)

3MichaelA7moKaplan does discuss how the US was worried about a Soviet invasion of the US's European allies, and how this was a part of the motivation for having a large nuclear arsenal and also for specific aspects of the arsenal (e.g. stationing nuclear weapons in Europe itself so that the US could threaten to launch from Europe, which was assumed to be more credible than threatening to launch from the US since it seemed somewhat less likely to trigger a strike against the mainland US in response). He also discusses how this consideration was sometimes raised as an argument against various arms reductions proposals. E.g., he says what I paraphrased in my cards as: 1. Such an agreement couldn't be verified 2. Other nuclear armed states might not also eliminate their weapons, and thus they might gain superiority 3. This would create a major risk to Western Europe, given the Soviets' advantage in conventional forces [emphasis added] I can't remember whether, in the later chapters about more recent events, he directly confronts the question of whether the US would currently be able to deter Russian aggression effectively if it massively reduced or eliminated its nuclear arsenal. Though to be fair to him, the book isn't explicitly about what we should do, but rather things like the decision-making that has occurred in relation to US nuclear weapons, so he doesn't exactly have an obligation to cover that. (Though it seems to me that he does at times very much imply certain recommendations, or that certain actions have been reckless or crazy or must not be repeated.)
Books / book reviews on nuclear risk, WMDs, great power war?

Another book which should be added to the list is The Great American Gamble: Deterrence Theory and Practice from the Cold War to the 21st Century. This book is notable because it covers the case for deterrence pessimism.

It does this because Dr. Keith Payne, the author, was a student of Herman Kahn's, who was the other side of the deterrence conversation from Schelling. The central argument is that strictly offensive deterrence is not very credible and so poses an unacceptably high risk; the core difference in policy recommendations is to take deliberate st... (read more)

Megaproject Management

This talk is great, and hits the exact same points as the paper. Would it be alright with you if I put the link to the talk in post with the other resources?

2EdoArad8moOf course! :)
Megaproject Management

Investigating the field more deeply this year is going to be one of my hobby projects, but my early impression is that a big part of the claim is that when you do regular project management things wrong, the penalty at least scales. It also looks like the cost of doing the analysis right, such as reference class forecasting, doesn't come remotely close to scaling with the needs of the project.

I'm glad about this, because I was worried at first the whole inquiry might be useless except to people in a position of responsibility. Instead, it looks like there will be a lot of methods that are always a good idea but also scale really well. Bonus!

Improving Institutional Decision-Making: a new working group

I suggest looking into megaproject management. It grew out of regular project management, and focuses on the problem of very large projects because they go so badly so often. The problem they want to solve looks very big; they estimate that projects of this type, excluding economic stimulus programs and defense procurement, account for ~8% of global GDP.

I wrote a summary of one of the intro papers on LessWrong. The person driving the field appears to be Bent Flyvbjerg, who is at Oxford, though more researchers are involved.

2Vicky Clayton6moThanks for your comment, Ryan, and apologies for only spotting it just now. I agree there's lots of efficiency gains to be made on big projects! I wonder whether it's difficult to gain evidence on "what works" to improve them because there are so few and there's lots of different complexities (vs small projects - we have a lot more to observe and there's fewer dimensions).