Working on AGI safety via a deep-dive into brain algorithms, see


Getting a feel for changes of karma and controversy in the EA Forum over time

For what it's worth, I generally downvote a post only when I think "This post should not have been written in the first place", and relatedly I will often upvote posts I disagree with.

If that's typical, then the "controversial" posts you found may be "the most meta-level controversial" rather than "the most object-level controversial", if you know what I mean.

That's still interesting though.

What do you make of the doomsday argument?

I'm not up on the literature and haven't thought too hard about it, but I'm currently very much inclined to not accept the premise that I should expect myself to be a randomly-chosen person or person-moment in any meaningful sense—as if I started out as a soul hanging out in heaven, then flew down to Earth and landed in a random body, like in that Pixar movie.

I think that "I" am the thought processes going on in a particular brain in a particular body at a particular time—the reference class is not "observers" or "observer-moments" or anything like that, I'm in a reference class of one.

The idea that "I could have been born a different person" strikes me as just as nonsensical as the idea "I could have been a rock". Sure, I'm happy to think "I could have been born a different person" sometimes—it's a nice intuitive poetic prod to be empathetic and altruistic and grateful for my privileges and all that—but I don't treat it as a literally true statement that can ground philosophical reasoning. Again, I'm open to being convinced, but that's where I'm at right now.

Consciousness research as a cause? [asking for advice]

The "meta-problem of consciousness" is "What is the exact chain of events in the brain that leads people to self-report that they're conscious?". The idea is (1) This is not a philosophy question, it's a mundane neuroscience / CogSci question, yet (2) Answering this question would certainly be a big step towards understanding consciousness itself, and moreover (3) This kind of algorithm-level analysis seems to me to be essential for drawing conclusions about the consciousness of different algorithms, like those of animal brains and AIs.

(For example, a complete accounting of the chain of events that leads me to self-report "I am wearing a wristwatch" involves, among other things, a description of the fact that I am in fact wearing a wristwatch, and of what a wristwatch is. By the same token, a complete accounting of the chain of events that leads me to self-report "I am conscious" ought to involve the fact that I am conscious, and what consciousness is, if indeed consciousness is anything at all. Unless you believe in p-zombies I guess, and likewise believe that your own personal experience of being conscious has no causal connection whatsoever to the words that you say when you talk about your conscious experience, which seems rather ludicrous to me, although to be fair there are reasonable people who believe that.)

My impression is that the meta-problem of consciousness is rather neglected in neuroscience / CogSci, although I think Graziano is heading in the right direction. For example, Dehaene has a whole book about consciousness, and nowhere in that book will you see a sentence that ends "...and then the brain emits motor commands to speak the words 'I just don't get it, why does being human feel like anything at all?'." or anything remotely like that. I don't see anything like that from QRI either, although someone can correct me if I missed it. (Graziano does have sentences like that.)

Ditto with the "meta-problem of suffering", incidentally. (Is that even a term? You know what I mean.) It's not obvious, but when I wrote this post I was mainly trying to work towards a theory of the meta-problem of suffering, as a path to understand what suffering is and how to tell whether future AIs will be suffering. I think that particular post was wrong in some details, but hopefully you can see the kind of thing I'm talking about. Conveniently, there's a lot of overlap between solving the meta-problem of suffering and understanding brain motivational systems more generally, which I think may be directly relevant and important for AI Alignment.

Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!

Theiss was very much active as of December 2020. They've just been recruiting so successfully through word-of-mouth that they haven't gotten around to updating the website.

I don't think healthcare and taxes undermine what I said, at least not for me personally. For healthcare, individuals can buy health insurance too. For taxes, self-employed people need to pay self-employment tax, but employees and employers both have to pay payroll tax which adds up to a similar amount, and then you lose the QBI deduction (this is all USA-specific), so I think you come out behind even before you account for institutional overhead, and certainly after. Or at least that's what I found when I ran the numbers for me personally. It may be dependent on income bracket or country so I don't want to over-generalize...

That's all assuming that the goal is to minimize the amount of grant money you're asking for, while holding fixed after-tax take-home pay. If your goal is to minimize hassle, for example, and you can just apply for a bit more money to compensate, then by all means join an institution, and avoid the hassle of having to research health care plans and self-employment tax deductions and so on.

I could be wrong or misunderstanding things, to be clear. I recently tried to figure this out for my own project but might have messed up, and as I mentioned, different income brackets and regions may differ. Happy to talk more. :-)

Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!

My understanding is that (1) to deal with the paperwork etc. for grants from governments or government-like bureaucratic institutions, you need to be part of an institution that's done it before; (2) if the grantor is a nonprofit, they have regulations about how they can use their money while maintaining nonprofit status, and it's very easy for them to forward the money to a different nonprofit institution, but may be difficult or impossible for them to forward the money to an individual. If it is possible to just get a check as an individual, I imagine that that's the best option. Unless there are other considerations I don't know about.

Btw Theiss is another US organization in this space.

What does it mean to become an expert in AI Hardware?

I'm a physicist at a US defense contractor, I've worked on various photonic chip projects and neuromorphic chip projects and quantum projects and projects involving custom ASICs among many other things, and I blog about safe & beneficial AGI as a hobby ... I'm happy to chat if you think that might help, you can DM me :-)

What does it mean to become an expert in AI Hardware?

Just a little thing, but my impression is that CPUs and GPUs and FPGAs and analog chips and neuromorphic chips and photonic chips all overlap with each other quite a bit in the technologies involved (e.g. cleanroom photolithography), as compared to quantum computing which is way off in its own universe of design and build and test and simulation tools (well, several universes, depending on the approach). I could be wrong, and you would probably know better than me. (I'm a bit hazy on everything that goes into a "real" large-scale quantum computer, as opposed to 2-qubit lab demos.) But if that's right, it would argue against investing your time in quantum computing, other things equal. For my part, I would put like <10% chance that the quantum computing universe is the one that will create AGI hardware and >90% that the CPU/GPU/neuromorphic/photonic/analog/etc universe will. But who knows, I guess.

Why those who care about catastrophic and existential risk should care about autonomous weapons

Thanks for writing this up!!

Although I have not seen the argument made in any detail or in writing, I and the Future of Life Institute (FLI) have gathered the strong impression that parts of the effective altruism ecosystem are skeptical of the importance of the issue of autonomous weapons systems.

I'm aware of two skeptical posts on EA Forum (by the same person). I just made a tag Autonomous Weapons where you'll find them.

[Link] "Will He Go?" book review (Scott Aaronson)

I thought "taking tail risks seriously" was kinda an EA thing...? In particular, we all agree that there probably won't be a coup or civil war in the USA in early 2021, but is it 1% likely? 0.001% likely? I won't try to guess, but it sure feels higher after I read that link (including the Vox interview) ... and plausibly high enough to warrant serious thought and contingency planning.

At least, that's what I got out of it. I gave it a bit of thought and decided that I'm not in a position that I can or should do anything about it, but I imagine that some readers might have an angle of attack, especially given that it's still 6 months out.

Critical Review of 'The Precipice': A Reassessment of the Risks of AI and Pandemics

A nice short argument that a sufficiently intelligent AGI would have the power to usurp humanity is Scott Alexander's Superintelligence FAQ Section 3.1.

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