riceissa's Shortform

by riceissa27th Mar 20215 comments
Crossposted from the AI Alignment Forum. May contain more technical jargon than usual.
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I think Discord servers based around specific books are an underappreciated form of academic support/community. I have been part of such a Discord server (for Terence Tao's Analysis) for a few years now and have really enjoyed being a part of it.

Each chapter of the book gets two channels: one to discuss the reading material in that chapter, and one to discuss the exercises in that chapter. There are also channels for general discussion, introductions, and a few other things.

Such a Discord server has elements of university courses, Math Stack Exchange, Reddit, independent study groups, and random blog posts, but is different from all of them:

  • Unlike courses (but like Math SE, Reddit, and independent study groups), all participation is voluntary so the people in the community are selected for actually being interested in the material.
  • Unlike Math SE and Reddit (but like courses and independent study groups), one does not need to laboriously set the context each time one wants to ask a question or talk about something. It's possible to just say "the second paragraph on page 76" or "Proposition 6.4.12(c)" and expect to be understood, because there is common knowledge of what the material is and the fact that everyone there has access to that material. In a subject like real analysis where there are many ways to develop the material, this is a big plus.
  • Unlike independent study groups and courses (but like Math SE and Reddit), there is no set pace or requirement to join the study group at a specific point in time. This means people can just show up whenever they start working on the book without worrying that they are behind and need to catch up to the discussion, because there is no single place in the book everyone is at. This also makes this kind of Discord server easier to set up because it does not require finding someone else who is studying the material at the same time, so there is less cost to coordination.
  • Unlike random forum/blog posts about the book, a dedicated Discord server can comprehensively cover the entire book and has the potential to be "alive/motivating" (it's pretty demotivating to have a question about a blog post which was written years ago and where the author probably won't respond; I think reliability is important for making it seem safe/motivating to ask questions).

I also like that Discord has an informal feel to it (less friction to just ask a question) and can be both synchronous and asynchronous.

I think these Discord servers aren't that hard to set up and maintain. As long as there is one person there who has worked through the entire book, the server won't seem "dead" and it should accumulate more users. (What's the motivation for staying in the server if you've worked through the whole book? I think it provides a nice review/repetition of the material.) I've also noticed that earlier on I had to answer more questions in early chapters of the book, but now there are more people who've worked through the early chapters who can answer those questions, so I tend to focus on the later chapters now. So my concrete proposal is that more people, when they finish working through a book, should try to "adopt" the book by creating a Discord server and fielding questions from people who are still working through the book (and then advertising in some standard channels like a relevant subreddit). This requires little coordination ability (everyone from the second person onward selfishly benefits by joining the server and does not need to pay any costs).

I am uncertain how well this format would work for less technical books where there might not be a single answer to a question/a "ground truth" (which leaves room for people to give their opinions more).

(Thanks to people on the Tao Analysis Discord, especially pecfex for starting a discussion on the server about whether there are any similar servers, which gave me the idea to write this post, and Segun for creating the Tao Analysis Discord.)

This is a pretty cool concept. 

Does life extension (without other technological progress to make the world in general safer) lead to more cautious life styles? The longer the expected years left, the more value there is in just staying alive compared to taking risks. Since death would mean missing out on all the positive experiences for the rest of one's life, I think an expected value calculation would show that even a small risk is not worth taking. Does this mean all risks that don't get magically fixed due to life extension (for example, activities like riding a motorcycle or driving on the highway seem risky even if we have life extension technology) are not worth taking? (There is the obvious exception where if one knows when one is going to die, then one can take more risks just like in a pre-life extension world as one reaches the end of one's life.)

I haven't thought about this much, and wouldn't be surprised if I am making a silly error (in which case, I would appreciate having it pointed out to me!).

There's 2 factors here.

Suppose there's a life extension treatment that resets someone to age 20.  It's readily available to most first world residents, with the usual methods of rationing.  (wait lists for years in European countries, the usual insurance scam in the USA)

A rational human would yes, buy space in a bunker and do all of their work remotely.  There would be many variations of commercially available bunkers and security products, and the recent pandemic has showed that many high value jobs can be worked remotely.  

However, the life extension treatment doesn't change the 'human firmware'.  Novel experiences and mates will still remain highly pleasurable.  Staying in the bunker and experiencing life via screens will likely cause various problems, ameliorated to some degree with artificial means.  (vr headsets, etc)

So there will be flocks of humans who keep taking risks, and they will do the majority of the dying.  I think I read the average lifespan would still be about 3000 years, which seems like a large improvement over the present situation.

In addition, this would probably be just a temporary state of affairs.  ('a dreary few centuries')  Neural backups, remote bodies, deep dive VR - there are many technologies that would make it practical to go out in the world safely.  And a survival advantage for those humans who have the neurological traits to be able to survive the bunker years.

But, yes, I also think that society would slowly push for cleaning up many of the risks we consider 'acceptable' now.  Cars, guns that are not smart and can be fired accidentally, air pollution, electrical wiring and gas plumbing - we have a ton of infrastructure and devices where the risk is small...over short present human lifespans.  Everything would need to be a lot safer if we had expectations of thousands of years otherwise.

(I have only given this a little thought, so wouldn't be surprised if it is totally wrong. I'm curious to hear what people think.)

I've known about deductive vs inductive reasoning for a long time, but only recently heard about abductive reasoning. It now occurs to me that what we call "Solomonoff induction" might better be called "Solomonoff abduction". From SEP:

It suggests that the best way to distinguish between induction and abduction is this: both are ampliative, meaning that the conclusion goes beyond what is (logically) contained in the premises (which is why they are non-necessary inferences), but in abduction there is an implicit or explicit appeal to explanatory considerations, whereas in induction there is not; in induction, there is only an appeal to observed frequencies or statistics.

In Solomonoff induction, we explicitly refer to the "world programs" that provide explanations for the sequence of bits that we observe, so according to the above criterion it fits under abduction rather than induction.