Will Howard

Software Engineer @ Centre for Effective Altruism
376 karmaJoined Aug 2022London, UK



I'm a developer on the EA Forum (the website you are currently on). You can contact me about forum stuff at will.howard@centreforeffectivealtruism.org or about anything else at w.howard256@gmail.com


Topic Contributions

It took me ~1 minute. I already had a favourite candidate so I put all my points towards that. I was half planning to come back and edit to add backup choices but I've seen the interim results now so I'm not going to do that.

Gift Aid related clarification:

Gift Aid is a tax related bonus you can apply to donations in the UK. Apparently the way this works is the money arrives to the charity you're donating to in a big lump from the government some time, possibly months, after the original donations. This means the amount raised (the number here) will likely go up a bit even after the fundraiser closes (on 20th Dec).

For the purposes of the collective rewards here, we will use the amount that is showing on the fundraiser at the time we stop collecting donations. But the actual amount we end up distributing will include any extra that comes through as a result of Gift Aid.

Good idea, we can do this. We'll probably write a retro post at the end and this can be one of the stats we include.

From eyeballing the amounts we have been sent, it looks like the bulk of the pot is made up of large donations (>=$250), and these aren't clustering around the reward amount of $250. I would also guess (based on very little) that, especially for the flair, there is a large second order effect of increasing the general awareness of the donation election and this nudges other people to donate.

I'll be going to this. I just listened to your podcast with Daniel Filan and I thought your point about protests being underrated was a good one

I think this is valuable research, and a great write up, so I'm curating it.

I think this post is so valuable because having accurate models of what the public currently believe seems very important for AI comms and policy work. For instance, I personally found it surprising how few people disbelieve AI being a major risk (only 23% disbelieve it being an extinction level risk), and how few people dismiss it for "Sci-fi" reasons. I have seen fears of "being seen as sci-fi" as a major consideration around AI communications within EA, and so if the public are not (or no longer) put off by this then that would be an important update for people working in AI comms to make.

I also like how clearly the results are presented, with a lot of the key info contained in the first graph.

I see it as "incentives that nudge us to do bad things", plus this incentive structure being something that naturally emerges or is hard to avoid ("the dictatorless dictatorship").

I think "Moloch" gets this across a bit better than just "incentives" which could include things like bonuses which are deliberately set up by other people to encourage certain behaviour.

Tyler Cowen has this criticism of prediction markets which is like (paraphrased, plus slightly made up and mixed with my own opinions): "The whole concept is based on people individually trying to maximise their wealth, and this resulting in wealth accruing to the better predictors over time. But then in real life people just bet these token amounts that add up to way less than the money they get from their salary or normal investments. This completely defeats the point! You may as well just take the average probability at that point rather than introducing this overcomplicated mechanism".

Play money can fix this specific problem, because you can make it so everyone starts with the same amount, whereas real money is constantly streaming in and out for reasons other than your ability to predict esoteric world events. I think this is an underrated property of play money markets, as opposed to the usual arguments about risk aversion. (Of course if you can buy play money with real money this muddies the waters quite a bit)

I would really like to add some kind of limit order mode. I also often set up a limit order to sell out of my position once I have reached a certain profit which I would like to be able to do via the calculator.

The main reason I haven't done this, and the thing suggested by @Matthew_Barnett below of adding a discount rate, is that I wanted to keep this very simple so that people aren't overwhelmed by settings. I think the cost of adding an additional setting is quite high because:

  • A lot of people will be put off and literally just click away if there are too many settings, and then go back to making worse bets than if they only been shown a subset of those settings
  • People (me) will waste time fiddling with settings that aren't that important, and either end up making worse bets or just not benefit that much for the extra cost (or think "ugh I have to estimate the expected resolution time in both the YES and NO case" when they see a favourable market, and just not bet on it instead). The discount/expected growth rate is very susceptible to this I think, because it's easy to be overconfident and avoid ok bets because of the perceived opportunity cost (especially as your growth rate will go down as your balance goes up and it's harder to find markets that can absorb all your mana, so people are likely to overestimate their long term growth rate)
  • On the practical side, every extra setting increases the chance of bugs, and being pretty confident that the answer is correct is important for a calculator that makes important decisions for you

My current plan is to leave this calculator basically as is, and built another more fully featured one for advanced users, which will hopefully include these things:

  • Accounting for several estimates at the same time, and remembering previous bets
  • Time discounting (which overlaps with the one above)
  • Limit orders, or some other way of automatically buying in/out of a position over time
  • Estimating the resolution time in each outcome (this is important if you have a market like "Will Donald Trump tweet before the end of 2023", where it can resolve YES early but can't resolve NO early. It changes the ROI quite a bit)

I'm not 100% sure this is the right approach though, because I could throw some of these things in "Advanced settings" pretty easily (within a week or two), whereas building the better thing would take at least a couple of months. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this seeing as you're an actual real user!

Good point, this is worth considering :)

I don't think there is any technical reason why the communication with the manifold APIs couldn't just happen on the frontend, so it might be worth looking into?

I tried to do this initially but it was blocked by Manifold's CORS policy. I was trying to keep everything in the frontend but this and the call to fetch the authenticated user both require going via a server unfortunately.

Also something else to note in terms of privacy: I log the username and the amount when someone places a bet.

It doesn't need the API key at all to calculate the recommended amount, so for people concerned about this you can just paste the amount into Manifold

It assumes the market probability is correct for all your other bets, which is an important caveat. This will make it more risk averse than it should be (you can afford to risk more if you expect your net worth to be higher in the future).

It also assumes all the probabilities are uncorrelated, which is another important caveat. This one will make it less risk averse than it should be.

I'm planning on making a version that does take all your estimates into account and rebalances your whole portfolio based on all your probabilities at once (hence mani–folio). This is a lot more complicated though, I decided not to run before I could walk. Also I think the simplicity of the current version is a big benefit, if you are betting over a fairly short time horizon and you don't have any big correlated positions then the above two things will just be small corrections.

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