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Announcing the Legal Priorities Project Writing Competition: Improving Cost-Benefit Analysis to Account for Existential and Catastrophic Risks

I wonder if you have any other suggested reading on US regulatory analysis processes?

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Specifically:  Having read circular A-4 I am somewhat confused by US regulatory analysis. Circular A-4 only covers various forms of cost benefit assessment. But where is all the rest of the regulatory analysis? Is that it? Like where is the assessment of quality of evidence, or the assessment of how easy it is to review and change, or the assessment of risk? Surely A-4 is not the complete regulatory analysis process? There must be something else right?

For example in the UK policy makers have access to guidance on a range of topics that A-4 doesn't even touch on such as:

  • Analysis of things like "Strategic dimension: What is the case for change, including the rationale for intervention? What is the current situation? What is to be done? What outcomes are expected? How do these fit with wider government policies and objectives? Management dimension: Are there realistic and robust delivery plans? How can the proposal be
    delivered?" (here in the Green Book)
  • Analysis guidance includes at least some (minimal) advice on topics such as generating a long-list of option or adjusting the results to account for common biases of researchers
  • There is much more guidance on what good regulatory policy should look like to support good decisions making. Like the Regulators Code (and papers such as Regulation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Regulatory Futures Review.)

Does anything similar exist in the US?

Jobs at EA-organizations are overpaid, here is why

At least from a personal perspective, if I see an EA job with a super high salary, I sometimes catch myself thinking: the salary is so high, they will definitely find someone for that job, so I would rather work at a less established org that can only offer a lower salary. So my brain sees lower salaries as a signal of higher counterfactual impact. Not sure this is a great way to think (I don’t think folk should judge impact based on salary, and I might just be confabulating to justify my past decision making). But if a fair amount of other folk do think like that then orgs that compete for altruism with high salaries might be shooting themselves in the foot.

Jobs at EA-organizations are overpaid, here is why

True. But not useful. Salary is a very very very weak signal of impact and a high salary could mean many many other things.
 

For example here are some things a high salary could also be a signal of, many of which might suggest that following a high salary is NOT a good idea. A high salary might be a sign that:

  • An org is managing its resources poorly (I know some folk who think their orgs overspend needlessly).
  • An org is failing to hire, which could be a sign of internal problems or bad management.
  • An org is more established. Newer orgs may struggle to demonstrate impact so get less funds, but if you buy the value of more entrepreneurship in EA it might be better to find a newer org with a lower salary.
  • An org is a funding org. Funders tend to pay higher than doers. If you think doers are more needed in EA right now then you shouldn’t follow the salaries to funders
  • An org is a longtermist org. These tend to pay higher as the existing orgs in the space are not very scalable or good at absorbing funds yet. I think folks should judge cause areas on factors other than salaries.
  • There would be lower counterfactual impact of taking the job. If you are not salary motivated but think other folk are a higher salary might be a sign that your counterfactual impact will be lower compared to other applicants.

 

Salary is an extremely messy signal, with many factors affecting it. I would recommend folk in EA do not overly update for or against a job based on its salary.

Using TikTok to indoctrinate the masses to EA

Nice videos. Well done.

I thought the first one was really good – very impressive!!

On infinite ethics

Going to type and think at the same time – lets see where this goes (sorry if it ends up with a long reply).

 

Well firstly, as long as you still have a non zero chance of the universe not being infinite, then I think you will avoid most of the paradoxes mentioned above (zones of happiness and suffering, locating value and rankings of individuals, etc), But it sounds like you are claiming you still get the "infinite fanatics" problems.

 

I am not sure how true this is. I find it hard to think through what you are saying without a concrete moral dilemma in my head. I don’t on a daily basis face situations where I get to create universes with different types of physics. Here are some (not very original) stories that might capture what you are suggestion could happen. 

1. Lets imagine a pascals mugging situation 

  • A stranger stops you in the street and says give me a $5 or I will create a universe of infinite sadness.

2. A rats on heroin type situation. Imagine we are in a world where:

  • Scientists believe with very high certainty that the universe will eventually undergo heat death and utility will stop.
  • You have a device that will tile the entire universe with rats on heroin  (or something else that maximises utility, until the heat death of the universe (and people agree that is a good thing). But this would stop scientific research.
  • An infinite fanatic might say: don’t use the device, it sounds good but if we keep doing science then there is an extremely small chance we can prove our current scientific view of the universe to be wrong and find a way to create infinite joy which is bigger than an entire universe of joy. 

Feel free to suggest a better story if you have one.

 

These do look like problems for utilitarianism that involve infinites.

But I am not convinced that they are problems to do with infinite ethics. They both seem to still arise if you replace the "infinite" with "Graham’s number" or "10^100" etc.

But I already think that standard total utilitarianism breaks down  quite often, especially in situations of uncertainty or hard to quantify credences. Utilitarian philosophers don’t even agree on if preventing extinction risks should be a priority (for, against), even using finite numbers.

Now I might be wrong, I am not a professional philosopher with a degree in making interesting thought experiments, but I guess I would say that all of the problems in the post above EITHER make no more sense than saying, oh look utiltarinaism doesn’t work if you add in time travel paradoxes, or something like that OR are reduceable to problems with large finites or high uncertainties. So considering "infinitities" does not itself break utilitarianism (which is already broken).

On infinite ethics

I would disagree.

Let me try to explain why by reversing your argument in on itself. Imagine with me for a minute we live in a world where the vast majority of physicists believe in a big bounce and/or infinite time etc.

Ok got that, now consider:

The infinite ethics problems still do not arise as long as you have any non-trivial credence in time being finite. For more recent consequences always dominate later ones as long as the later have any probability above 0 of not happeneing.

Moreover, you should have such a non-trivial credence. For example, although we have pretty good evidence that the universe is not going to suddenly end in a false vacuum decay scenario, it’s certainly not totally ruled out (definitely not to the point where you should have credence of 1 that it doesn’t happen). Plenty of cosmologists are still kicking around that and other universe ending cosmologies, which do theoretically allow for literally finite effects from individual actions, even if they’re in the minority.

Basically even if time went on forever as long as we have a >0 credence that it would stop at some point then we would prefer w1 to w2 where:

Time      t1      t2      t3     t4    t5     t6     t7  ….
w 1           +1     +1     +1    +1   +1     +1    +1   ….
w 2          +1                +1              +1               +1   ….
 

So no infinite ethics paradoxes!!
YAY we can stop worrying.

 

[I should add this is not the most thorough explanation it mostly amused me to reverse your argument. I would also see: djbinder comment and my reply to that comment for a slightly better explanation of why (in my view) physics does not allow infinite paradoxes (any more than it allows time travel paradoxes).]

How to set up a UK organisation (Limited Company version)

Hi. I have a bunch of notes on how to start a UK registered charity that I can share on request if useful to people. Message me if needed.

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