• What if a tech company forced you to move to NYC?

    It’s interesting to me how chill people sometimes are about the non-extinction future AI scenarios. Like, there seem to be opinions around along the lines of “pshaw, it might ruin your little sources of ‘meaning’, Luddite, but we have always had change and as long as the machines are pretty near the mark on rewiring your brain it will make everything amazing”. Yet I would bet that even that person, if faced instead with a policy that was going to forcibly relocate them to New York City, would be quite indignant, and want a lot of guarantees about the preservation of various very specific things they care about in life, and not be just like “oh sure, NYC has higher GDP/capita than my current city, sounds good”.

  • Podcast: Center for AI Policy, on AI risk and listening to AI researchers

    I was on the Center for AI Policy Podcast. We talked about topics around the 2023 Expert Survey on Progress in AI, including why I think AI is an existential risk, and how much to listen to AI researchers on the subject. Full transcript at the link.

  • Is suffering like shit?

    People seem to find suffering deep. Serious writings explore the experiences of all manner of misfortunes, and the nuances of trauma and torment involved. It’s hard to write an essay about a really good holiday that seems as profound as an essay about a really unjust abuse. A dark past can be plumbed for all manner of meaning, whereas a slew of happy years is boring and empty, unless perhaps they are too happy and suggest something dark below the surface. (More thoughts in the vicinity of this here.)

    I wonder if one day suffering will be so avoidable that the myriad hurts of present-day existence will seem to future people like the problem of excrement getting on everything. Presumably a real issue in 1100 AD, but now irrelevant, unrelatable, decidedly not fascinating or in need of deep analysis.

  • Twin Peaks: under the air

    Content warning: low content

    ~ Feb 2021

    The other day I decided to try imbibing work-relevant blog posts via AI-generated recital, while scaling the Twin Peaks—large hills near my house in San Francisco, of the sort that one lives near and doesn’t get around to going to. It was pretty strange, all around.

  • What is my Facebook feed about?

    Sometimes I look at social media a bunch, but it would be hard for me to tell you what the actual content is, I suppose because whenever I’m looking at it, I’m focused on each object thing level in turn, not the big picture. So sometimes I’m curious what it is I read about there. Here is the answer for Facebook, in 2019—according to a list I found that appears to be a survey of such—and again now. Plausibly not at a useful level of abstraction, but I have a bit of a migraine and no more energy for this project.

  • Things I hate about Partiful

    • The aesthetic for all parties is basically the same.

    • That aesthetic is bad.

    • A party is an aesthetic creation, so having all guests’ first experience of the thing you are offering them be a chintzy piece of crap that matches every other chintzy piece of crap is much worse than if the thing they were selling was like low-quality toilet paper or something.

    • As far as I can tell, the only way to be informed of parties using Partiful is via SMS. Perhaps this is idiosyncratic to me, but I have no desire to ever use SMS. I also don’t want to receive a message in the middle of whatever I’m doing to hear about a new party happening. Fuck off. This should only happen if the party is very time sensitive and important. Like if a best friend or much sought after celebrity is having a party in the next twenty minutes, sure text me, if you don’t have WhatsApp. Otherwise, ffs email me.

    • As far as I can tell, the only way to message the host a question about the party is to post it to the entire group. Yet there are very few questions I want to text an entire guest list about.

    • Supposing I make the error of doing that (which I do not), as far as I can tell, the guest list receives an sms saying that I have sent a message, and they have to click to follow a link to the website to see what the message is.

  • An explanation of evil in an organized world

    A classic problem with Christianity is the so-called ‘problem of evil’—that friction between the hypothesis that the world’s creator is arbitrarily good and powerful, and a large fraction of actual observations of the world.

    Coming up with solutions to the problem of evil is a compelling endeavor if you are really rooting for a particular bottom line re Christianity, or I guess if you enjoy making up faux-valid arguments for wrong conclusions. At any rate, I think about this more than you might guess.

    And I think I’ve solved it!

  • The first future and the best future

    It seems to me worth trying to slow down AI development to steer successfully around the shoals of extinction and out to utopia.

    But I was thinking lately: even if I didn’t think there was any chance of extinction risk, it might still be worth prioritizing a lot of care over moving at maximal speed. Because there are many different possible AI futures, and I think there’s a good chance that the initial direction affects the long term path, and different long term paths go to different places. The systems we build now will shape the next systems, and so forth. If the first human-level-ish AI is brain emulations, I expect a quite different sequence of events to if it is GPT-ish.

    People genuinely pushing for AI speed over care (rather than just feeling impotent) apparently think there is negligible risk of bad outcomes, but also they are asking to take the first future to which there is a path. Yet possible futures are a large space, and arguably we are in a rare plateau where we could climb very different hills, and get to much better futures.

  • Experiment on repeating choices

    People behave differently from one another on all manner of axes, and each person is usually pretty consistent about it. For instance:

    • how much to spend money
    • how much to worry
    • how much to listen vs. speak
    • how much to jump to conclusions
    • how much to work
    • how playful to be
    • how spontaneous to be
    • how much to prepare
    • How much to socialize
    • How much to exercise
    • How much to smile
    • how honest to be
    • How snarky to be
    • How to trade off convenience, enjoyment, time and healthiness in food

    These are often about trade-offs, and the best point on each spectrum for any particular person seems like an empirical question. Do people know the answers to these questions? I’m a bit skeptical, because they mostly haven’t tried many points.

  • Mid-conditional love

    People talk about unconditional love and conditional love. Maybe I’m out of the loop regarding the great loves going on around me, but my guess is that love is extremely rarely unconditional. Or at least if it is, then it is either very broadly applied or somewhat confused or strange: if you love me unconditionally, presumably you love everything else as well, since it is only conditions that separate me from the worms.

    I do have sympathy for this resolution—loving someone so unconditionally that you’re just crazy about all the worms as well—but since that’s not a way I know of anyone acting for any extended period, the ‘conditional vs. unconditional’ dichotomy here seems a bit miscalibrated for being informative.

    Even if we instead assume that by ‘unconditional’, people mean something like ‘resilient to most conditions that might come up for a pair of humans’, my impression is that this is still too rare to warrant being the main point on the love-conditionality scale that we recognize.

    People really do have more and less conditional love, and I’d guess this does have important, labeling-worthy consequences. It’s just that all the action seems to be in the mid-conditional range that we don’t distinguish with names. A woman who leaves a man because he grew plump and a woman who leaves a man because he committed treason both possessed ‘conditional love’.

    So I wonder if we should distinguish these increments of mid-conditional love better.

    What concepts are useful? What lines naturally mark it?

    One measure I notice perhaps varying in the mid-conditional affection range is “when I notice this person erring, is my instinct to push them away from me or pull them toward me?” Like, if I see Bob give a bad public speech, do I feel a drive to encourage the narrative that we barely know each other, or an urge to pull him into my arms and talk to him about how to do better?

    This presumably depends on things other than the person. For instance, the scale and nature of the error: if someone you casually like throws a frisbee wrong, helping them do better might be appealing. Whereas if that same acquaintance were to kick a cat, your instinct might be to back away fast.

    This means perhaps you could construct a rough scale of mid-conditional love in terms of what people can do and still trigger the ‘pull closer’ feeling. For instance, perhaps there are:

    • People who you feel a pull toward when they misspell a word
    • People who you feel a pull toward when they believe something false
    • People who you feel a pull toward when they get cancelled

    (You could also do this with what people can do and still be loved, but that’s more expensive to measure than minute urges.)