Wiki Contributions


An update in favor of trying to make tens of billions of dollars


You’d also expect that class of people to be more risk-averse, since altruistic returns to money are near-linear on relevant scales at least according to some worldviews, while selfish returns are sharply diminishing (perhaps logarithmic?).


It's been a while since I have delved into the topic, so take this with a grain of salt: 

Because of the heavy influence of VCs who follow a hits-based model, startup founders are often forced to aim for 1B+ companies because they lost control of the board, even if they themselves would prefer the higher chances of success with a <1B company.  That is to say, there are more people and startups going for the (close to) linear  utility curve than you would expect based on founders' motivations alone. How strong that effect is  I  cannot say. 

This conflict appears well known, see here for a serious treatment and here for a more humorous  one

Book Review: Open Borders

You mention "It’s probably the case that the biggest harms from immigration come from people irrationally panicking about immigration, but (surprise!) people are in fact irrational.". 

From an EU-perspective, the effect seems pretty clear: After the refugee crisis 2015-2016 there have been numerous cases of populist right-wing parties gaining support or outright winning elections after running on anti-immigration platforms: to name just a few: the Lega Nord in Italy became part of the government, the FPÖ polled at their highest in 2016,  and anti-immigration sentiment was at least influential for Brexit. These are arguably outcomes that substantially weaken political institutions and lead to worse governance. 

This kind of backlash from some parts of the established population happens at moderate levels of immigration. We should expect it to be much stronger when immigration would be much higher under an Open Borders system, and account for the effects of that.   

We're Redwood Research, we do applied alignment research, AMA

I think it is fair to say that so far alignment research is not a standard research area in academic machine learning, unlike for example model interpretability. Do you think that would be desirable, and if so what would need to happen? 

In particular, I had this toy idea of making progress legible to academic journals:  Formulating problems and metrics that are "publishing-friendly"could,  despite the problems that optimizing for flawed metrics bring,  allow researchers at regular universities to conduct work in these areas.

Has Life Gotten Better?

Looking forward to the posts, and happy to postpone further discussion to when they are published, but  to me the question and your alluded to answer has enormous implications for our ability to raise life satisfaction levels. 

Namely: very rough estimates suggest that we are now 100x-1000x richer than in the past, and our lives are in the range [good-ok], but generally not pure bliss or anything close to it. If we extend reasonable estimations for  the effect of  material circumstances on wellbeing (i.e. doubling of wealth increases satisfaction by 1 point on a 10 point scale) , we should then expect past humans to have been miserable.  

I  am skeptical that this was the case: On the one hand, belief systems  like Buddhism clearly espouse that life is suffering. On the other hand, other religions are arguably not that pessimistic about life. Furthermore, folk tales and historic accounts generally do not  seem to  support that people were looking forward to their death (with some exceptions, e.g. spirituals from African-American slaves, that show that life can get that bad.)  Also, existing hunter-gatherer tribes seem as satisfied as  modern people. (which I guess you already incorporated into your chart somewhat).

To me, it is not surprising that some of the material gain gets eaten by the treadmill-effect (for example status symbols like flashier cars), but we have to remember that pre-modern people had no access to modern medicine to relieve pain (teeth pain can be horrible), far less delicious food and comfort, etc.. This could suggest that life satisfaction has, maybe not a a set-point, but rather a  narrow range where it can move under realistic conditions. 

Decreasing populism and improving democracy, evidence-based policy, and rationality

This is a very comprehensive report, thanks for posting.

Given that education is seen as a strong predictor of populist attitudes, it is interesting  that  many  interventions listed on the demand side  seem to target highly educated people (e.g. Our World in Data,  Factfullness,  Journalism, Fact checking in general, BPB). The Youtube channel Kurzgesagt and some things Last week tonight comes up with (e.g. the wrestler John Cena warning against conspiracy theories) seem a  bit better.  You mention research how they might affect policy, but it would also be interesting how they affect the attitudes of the broader audience in general.

Still, information spreading explicitly and effectively  targeted towards  people at risk of populist attitudes (older, less educated) seems kind of rare? Where are the civic education memes that can be shared in boomer facebook groups?  E.g. to combat conspiracy theories, I see a lot of videos with experts explaining the issue in simple terms, when this is exactly the kind of people that populists consider to be the elite not to be trusted.   

Taylor Swift's "long story short" Is Actually About Effective Altruism and Longtermism (PARODY)

Chomsky publishing his new book, The Precipice,  mere months after Long Story Short clearly indicates  that he and Taylor must be closely working together.  I look forward to the surely upcoming 80000 hours joint appearance of Taylor Swift and Noam Chomsky.  

COVID: How did we do? How can we know?

But shouldn't this update our priors towards mostly being on the happy timeline, in the West as well? Given that it took Sinovac/China one year from last March to this March to scale up, and that their vaccines are easier to manufacture than mRNA vaccines,  and if we assume high investment from the start in China (so their timeline is close to optimal), it really starts to look like we could not have done much better on manufacturing (because the West does not differ strongly in available doses compared to China)? 

I.e. we could have approved a few months earlier, but even in December the UK and the US (I think?)  were mostly bottlenecked by supply issues, so an earlier approval should not have changed much by this intuition.

COVID: How did we do? How can we know?

I could not agree more with your sentiment, but the "We did ok" side has a point: If there was a much better policy or intervention, why was it  done by no country, and no philanthropist?  As a country, not much was stopping you a year ago to unilaterally prepurchase tons of vaccines and start manufacturing them. Getting 20 million doses manufactured early is much easier than 2 bn, you do not need to spend time coordinating with others etc., so what happened? From memory:

China only really started to vaccinate its citizens in March (but is doing it really fast now), despite approving the Sinopharm vaccine for EUA in July. Phase 3 data for their vaccines came in at the end of 2020, and seeing how urgent China is vaccinating now, it really does seem like manufacturing was their bottleneck.  Russia approved its Sputnik Vaccine in August and started mass production immediately, but appears to only have been able to produce 2 million doses instead of the estimated 30 million by 2020  because of manufacturing problems.

But you do not have to design your own vaccine, you could just prepurchase  a comparatively low amount of vaccines. There are enough oil states with no democratic decision making, so why did nobody say to Pfizer: "Here are 100 dollars per dose (9 times what the EU pays you) to start producing them now.  The same day you publish your Phase 3 trial results, we expect the doses at our doors so that we can vaccinate our citizens."? E.g. Qatar only has 2 million citizens, so surely they could have procured enough early on, from different manufacturers? 

And that is just the procurement/manufacturing side of things. There's also population wide rapid screening tests (AFAIK only Slovakia and Germany), pool testing (China and Rwanda), large, multicenter drug trials (only UK with the RECOVERY trial) as things that seem like extremely low hanging fruits but were neglected almost anywhere,  despite strong economic incentives to  get things right. 

I am noticing my confusion: Are our institutions really so bad at dealing with crises? Or is it much more difficult than it looks to implement changes and react to completely novel situations?

COVID: How did we do? How can we know?

Oh, there is not a shred of doubt that the EU delayed buying the vaccines in order to lower the price, and I agree that this was a disastrous decision that led to supply delays. This is however a separate question from approving the vaccine, which is what my objection was about.

COVID: How did we do? How can we know?

Well whatever one may think of it, the EMA had legitimate concerns, and was not merely dragging its feet for negotiation reasons as the OP implied.

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