On insecurity as a friend

There’s a common narrative about confidence that says that confidence is good, insecurity is bad. It’s better to develop your confidence than to be insecure. There’s an obvious truth to this. But what that narrative does not acknowledge, and what both a person struggling with insecurity and their well-meaning friends might miss, is that that insecurity may be in place for a...

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New paper: Long-Term Trajectories of Human Civilization

Long-Term Trajectories of Human Civilization (free PDF). Foresight, forthcoming, DOI 10.1108/FS-04-2018-0037. Authors: Seth D. Baum, Stuart Armstrong, Timoteus Ekenstedt, Olle Häggström, Robin Hanson, Karin Kuhlemann, Matthijs M. Maas, James D. Miller, Markus Salmela, Anders Sandberg, Kaj Sotala, Phil Torres, Alexey Turchin, and Roman V. Yampolskiy. Abstract Purpose: This paper formalizes...

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Finland Museum Tour 1/??: Tampere Art Museum

I haven’t really been to museums as an adult; not because I’d have been particularly Anti-Museum, but just because museums never happened to become a Thing That I Do. I vaguely recall having been to a few museums with my parents when I was little, an occasional Japan exhibition as a teen when Japan was a Thing, and a few visits to various museums with school. I think my overall...

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Is the Star Trek Federation really incapable of building AI?

In the Star Trek universe, we are told that it’s really hard to make genuine artificial intelligence, and that Data is so special because he’s a rare example of someone having managed to create one. But this doesn’t seem to be the best hypothesis for explaining the evidence that we’ve actually seen. Consider: In the TOS episode “The Ultimate Computer“, the...

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Some conceptual highlights from “Disjunctive Scenarios of Catastrophic AI Risk”

My forthcoming paper, “Disjunctive Scenarios of Catastrophic AI Risk”, attempts to introduce a number of considerations to the analysis of potential risks from Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As the paper is long and occasionally makes for somewhat dry reading, I thought that I would briefly highlight a few of the key points raised in the paper. The main idea here is that most of the...

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On not getting swept away by mental content

There’s a specific subskill of meditation that I call “not getting swept away by the content”, that I think is generally valuable. It goes like this. You sit down to meditate and focus on your breath or whatever, and then a worrying thought comes to your mind. And it’s a real worry, something important. And you are tempted to start thinking about it and pondering it and...

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Papers for 2017

I had three new papers either published or accepted into publication last year; all of them are now available online: How Feasible is the Rapid Development of Artificial Superintelligence? Physica Scripta 92 (11), 113001. Abstract: What kinds of fundamental limits are there in how capable artificial intelligence (AI) systems might become? Two questions in particular are of interest: 1) How...

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Fixing science via a basic income

I ran across Ed Hagen’s article “Academic success is either a crapshoot or a scam”, which pointed out that all the methodological discussion about science’s replication crisis is kinda missing the point: yes, all of the methodological stuff like p-hacking is something that would be valuable to fix, but the real problem is in the incentives created by the crazy...

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Book review: The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment

The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment. By Todd Kashdan & Robert Biswas-Diener. Avery, 2014. This book was written by a pair of psychologists who thought that the excessive focus on good and positive feelings in positive psychology was a little overblown, and that the value of so-called...

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Meditation and mental space

One effect that I often notice after my meditation practice has been interrupted and I then manage to resume it again, is an increase in a kind of mental resilience. That is, when I have a lower resilience, feeling bad for any reason feels much more like an emergency. It’s something that forces itself into my consciousness, takes over, and refuses to go away. I would like to ignore it, but...

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Anti-tribalism and positive mental health as high-value cause areas

I think that tribalism is one of the biggest problems with humanity today, and that even small reductions of it could cause a massive boost to well-being. By tribalism, I basically mean the phenomenon where arguments and actions are primarily evaluated based on who makes them and which group they seem to support, not anything else. E.g. if a group thinks that X is bad, then it’s often seen...

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You can never be universally inclusive

A discussion about the article “We Don’t Do That Here” (h/t siderea) raised the question about the tension between having inclusive social norms on the one hand, and restricting some behaviors on the other hand. At least, that was the way the discussion was initially framed. The thing is, inclusivity is a bit of a bad term, since you can never really be universally inclusive....

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What are your plans for the evening of the apocalypse?

If everyone found out for sure that the world would end in five years, what would happen? My guess is that it would take time before anything big happened. Finding out about the end of the world, that’s the kind of a thing that you need to digest for a while. For the first couple of days, people might go “huh”, and then carry on with their old routines while thinking about it. A...

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Meaningfulness and the scope of experience

I find that the extent to which I find life meaningful, seems strongly influenced by my scope of experience [1, 2]. Say that I have a day off, and there’s nothing in particular that I need to get done or think about. This makes it easy for the spatial scope of my experience to become close. My attention is most strongly drawn to the sensations of my body, nearby sounds, tempting nearby...

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Nobody does the thing that they are supposedly doing

I feel like one of the most important lessons I’ve had about How the World Works, which has taken quite a bit of time to sink in, is: In general, neither organizations nor individual people do the thing that their supposed role says they should do. Rather they tend to do the things that align with their incentives (which may sometimes be economic, but even more often they are social and...

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To save the world, make sure to go beyond academia

There were several interesting talks at the GoCAS workshop on existential risk to humanity. The one that was maybe the most thought-provoking was the last one (video here), by Seth Baum, who discussed the difficulty of translating the results of academic research into something that actually does save the world. He gave two examples. First, climate change: apparently in the economics literature,...

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Debiasing by rationalizing your own motives

Some time back, I saw somebody express an opinion that I disagreed with. Next, my mind quickly came up with emotional motives the other person might have for holding such an opinion, that would let me safely justify dismissing that opinion. Now, it’s certainly conceivable that they did have such a reason for holding the opinion. People do often have all kinds of psychological,...

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The muted signal hypothesis of online outrage

Everyone, it sometimes seems, has their own pet theory of why social media and the Internet often seem like so unpleasant and toxic places. Let me add one more. People want to feel respected, loved, appreciated, etc. When we interact physically, you can easily experience subtle forms of these feelings. For instance, even if you just hang out in the same physical space with a bunch of other people...

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The parliamentary model as the correct ethical model

In 2009, Nick Bostrom brought up the possibility of dealing with moral uncertainty with a “parliamentary model” of morality. Suppose that you assign (say) 40% probability to some form particular of utilitarianism being correct, and 20% probability to some other form of utilitarianism being correct, and 20% probability to some form of deontology being true. Then in the parliamentary...

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Confidence and patience don’t feel like anything in particular

After doing my self-concept work, I’ve been expecting to feel confident in social situations. And observing myself in them or after them, I have been more confident. But I haven’t felt particularly confident. The thing is, being confident doesn’t feel like much in particular. I was pretty confident in my ability to open my laptop and write this post. I’m also confident in...

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