Introduction

Here's how I got here: a YouTuber I watch talked about 80,000 hours, so I started looking into it. I came to the conclusion that alignment work was both important in a global sense and a good fit for me personally, so I started working through their recommended readings.

While making progress through their alignment course, I noticed that a lot of the articles seemed to be coming from a weird website called "Less Wrong dot com." I vaguely remembered previously encountering it as a strange place, full of scary Atheists. However, my curiosity got the better of me. I followed some links and went down some rabbit trails, and before I knew it I was being inducted into a Baysian Conspiracy and my entire worldview was shifting under my feet because of a harry potter fanfic.

The reason for this post: I was inspired by So8res, first by one of his early productivity posts and later by his "Replacing Guilt" series. I want to more effectively strategize about how to steer my life in a useful direction, and I want to start writing out my thoughts in order to connect with others. Or, something like that.

I don't know if posts like this would be better made elsewhere, like on a personal blog - but I've got to start posting at some point, better to do this now than in 6 months.

Some things I suspect I'm Better At Than Average

(I'd say "My Pareto Frontier," but I haven't earned those words yet since I don't know their actual meaning)

  • I'm good at math (evidence: I got accepted into a master's of mathematical physics (I dropped out before finishing, though))
    • I can apply this to learning Alignment concepts, and generally to expressing or creating new ideas within the field.
  • I'm good at coding (evidence: I've done a bachelor's in CS, and have made a handful of games)
    • I can apply this to coding up AI stuff: reinforcement learning environments, replicating existing results, et cetera.
    • I also want to keep making games, I want to be able to explore personal themes, and that leads me into my last two points:
  • I have somehow gained the ability to draw (evidence: see below, some practice sheets from the last couple of months)
    • I could use this ability to draw diagrams, for any posts I make
    • I could create comics, tell short stories
    • I could create regular-old art, trying to express abstract feelings
  • I took piano lessons, sang, and did musical theatre as a kid
    • I could hypothetically work on my musical skills, to provide sounds for game-like projects.
    • I could possibly develop my public speaking skills, that seems potentially useful but also potentially terrifying.

Comments

I'm not nearly as hardworking as So8res. As a reasonable estimate for a doable study routine, I took So8res' study schedule from here, and cut it in more than half. This is partially due to me being less focused, and partially due to his later posts about being realistic: I'd like to create a routine that is effortless in the short term and sustainable in the long term.

My skills are very different from So8res' skills. I have a bad habit of comparing myself too closely to people I admire, and I can feel myself doing that with him. The better way of thinking about this would be that "the strategy is to optimize how effectively one puts to use their resources in achieving their goal, while also optimizing for complete knowledge of said resources." He put his personal motivation and social resources to extremely good use, and I ought to judge myself in this domain by how effectively I use the above resources, to Do Good (tm).

Remaining Uncertainties

  • I have no very little idea how to use singing in a useful way. I've got the talent, but I haven't put it to use in years.
  • I don't entirely like the idea of purely using art as a means to an end, as a communication tool. I need to clarify what I mean in another post at some point, but a way to think about it is that there seems to be some sort of "aesthetic beauty created" term in my utility function. Part of me says that art isn't important because it's not directly Doing Good (tm) like how feeding people during a famine or making progress towards solving the alignment problem are, but another part of me simply INSISTS that creating quality art (in any medium) is something worth optimizing for. I have more thinking/reading to do here.
  • In the end, there's still many strategy-based issues unresolved. Given the above resources, how do I achieve my goals?
    • I want to better understand why AI alignment is the most pressing problem for me to be studying. Can I fully explain it without stealing someone else's words to do it for me?
    • I want to put more work into optimizing for making my various study habits as effortless, as sustainable as possible. I don't want to be pushing myself (via willpower) to do a daily X, I want to reflexively do X every day without thinking about it. Daily art, regular writing, regular reading, whatever. I want this ship to effectively run itself. However: I'm not sure how to actually pull this off. 
  • I don't entirely know whether posts like this are a good strategy (a strategy to accomplish what?). It's a semi-accurate representation of what was in my mind today, so perhaps that's good enough.

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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:23 PM
[-]Viliam10mo21

My recommendation would be to always have a Plan B. If you try to make a very specific plan for your life, it may seem optimal from a theoretical perspective, but it is also very fragile -- you make one wrong estimate, or one unexpected thing happened, and the entire plan may fall apart. For example, it is difficult to estimate whether you will burn out. The feeling that you "should do X" does not protect one from burning out. Doing what you like to do, is probably more sustainable, if it gives you enough money, and if your skills keep expanding.

There is also the idea of "convergent goals", that some things (such as having more skills, or more money) are likely to be useful in the future regardless of what specifically you will choose to do. The rich person who decides to work on alignment is in much better position than a poor person who decides to work on alignment.

I don't know you, so the following may be wrong for you, but here is a possible "career plan":

1) Something that requires math and coding, as a profession and main source of income. Twenty years ago I would say "software development", but these days most of the profession is for plebs, whose job is mostly to read something from a database and render it on a HTML page; they are treated as low-status replaceable cogs in the machine. You should find a specialization that requires higher intelligence and math skills, which means that fewer people do it, which means that you will be treated with respect and surrounded by similar people. Not sure what exactly it is these days. Probably data science, machine learning, something like that.

Your focus should be to make a lot of money (and invest it wisely), and to develop better math skills (as opposed to merely learning software frameworks that will be obsolete 5 years later). Money is useful in general, the math skills may one day be useful for the alignment research.

2) Do some video games in your free time, as a hobby, and maybe a small independent source of income. You can practice coding skills, and it will give you the freedom to do art.

3) Practice some "human skills" and network with people. Other people can give you great ideas, or you can cooperate with them on awesome projects. Or they can be the audience (and customers) for your art.

I think the musical skills are probably not worth it, unless it is something you really want to do. If you need music for your games, you can probably buy some online, and a few years later an AI will do it for you. Also, composing music, and playing music, are two different skills.

Public speaking skills seem way more useful, because you can use them for various purposes (you could give speeches about your work, your art, or about AI alignment in general), and because being a public speaker automatically gives you higher status in given environment. Compare "being good at X" (only your boss knows, if he bothers to notice) with "giving a speech about X at a conference" (everyone thinks you are a demigod).

oh - and regarding this:

I think the musical skills are probably not worth it, unless it is something you really want to do.

Upon reading this, I had an instinctive negative reaction to you saying that they weren't worth it. So I suspect it is something I really want to do, or at least that something involved in giving up on it goes against my internal values.

I think you're right about social skills like public speaking or communication generally being important, those sorts of things are definitely scary to me but they'd definitely make me more effective at whatever I end up pursuing. 

I'll probably be practicing those communication skills here, first - I hope to write a lot more posts in the future, since exploring my ideas in written form in various notebooks has already been a habit of mine for a while. "Learn how to network" is also on my todo list, and friendmaking as well. My whole social toolkit generally needs some work.

You recommend that I try to make more money - once again, this is one of those cases where I've got an instinct to avoid it, but in the abstract I understand its usefulness. My brain brings up points like "people with more money have more opportunities to do bad things, like buying drugs or bribing others," and "if you truly did get more money, people would judge you as a bad person for it." I hadn't questioned these internal points much before, but you're right that getting money is an instrumental goal for all kinds of things I might want to accomplish.

For now, I'm focusing on studying in the spare time I have available, while making decisions based on the goal of "actually solving alignment." I think I'll do some writing/thinking in the near future, about how to also use my personal resources to make some money, without sacrificing too much progress towards said goal.

[-]Viliam10mo20

My brain brings up points like "people with more money have more opportunities to do bad things, like buying drugs or bribing others," and "if you truly did get more money, people would judge you as a bad person for it."

I think this is quite common (having such thoughts). I suspect that the actual reason is your brain thinking: "if I get more money than is usual in my current social group, I will be different and become an outcast".

I mean, imagine that your current good friends are millionaires. Would you still feel bad about becoming a millionaire? Or would it be normal and desirable to be on their level?

public speaking ... definitely scary to me

Start with lower stakes. For me, the first was talking at a local sci-fi convention about some silly topic. And yes, that felt scary too, but after receiving positive feedback I gradually got more confident. It helps if you have a friend in the audience (you can imagine that you are talking for the friend).

Some people recommend Toastmasters.

Ah, speaking at a convention or a similar environment seems like a good idea, I have opportunities like that I can immediately think of. 

Can you elaborate on the usefulness of public speaking, though? You mentioned gaining status, and I could see that as somewhat useful for making myself more well-known -> gaining connections -> being offered better opportunities, but there's probably uses for it or consequences of it that I haven't thought of.

Just a quick summary of what comes to my mind, there is probably more:

  • every speech is an opportunity to advertise your products/services
  • giving speech on X makes you "an expert on X" in the eyes of the audience
  • possible transition to making videos?
  • when you socialize after giving the speech, you are no longer a stranger

1) Suppose you made a few video games and you are selling them. Or you are offering a paid course of Python for beginners, or perhaps an expensive individual tutoring on making games in Python. In other words, you have a product/service to sell. Now whenever people pay attention to you, a certain fraction of them later buys your service/product. Giving a speech is a way to get attention of hundred people for an hour. Not just random people, but people interested in the topic you are talking about. Think how much it would cost, if you tried to buy the same amount × quality of attention using ads.

However, unlike ads, this type of advertising is not obnoxious (unless you make it so). The people have decided on their own to listen to you talking on given topic. If the topic is e.g. making games in Python, it is only natural to mention the games you made, as long as you say something interesting about them ("in my first game, Crappy Birds, I used a quantum algorithm for polygon collision, and it improved the performance by 80%"). It is also natural to be introduced as "XY, author of 'learn Python in 7 minutes' online course". Have a homepage that contains more information about the topic (but also links to buy your products and services), so that its URL can be mentioned in a schedule.

(In context of sci-fi conventions, it is often authors giving speeches on various topics. They don't even have to mention their books explicitly, if you introduce someone as a "sci-fi author" to an audience of sci-fi fans, they will naturally be curious.)

2) By making a speech on X, you are associated in minds of your audience with X. If you made a speech about Python, if they later need to have something done in Python, they may remember your name and offer you a contract. There may be hundred other people in the same room who also know Python, maybe much better than you, but they are anonymous.

3) I am not sure about this part, but some people made careers making YouTube videos. A few of them can make money from ad views alone. But I assume that there are many more for whom the strategy is more like "watch my videos, and then buy my book on the same topic" (the book is mentioned in the videos). Or "watch my videos, and donate to my Patreon". Or both. Or more... some people are completely shameless: they have YouTube ads in their videos and product placement in their videos and a Patreon account and they sell a book and they sell courses (and I bet the story does not end here). Ahem... backtracking to the original topic, I assume that good speaking skills can be also useful to make good videos. (But you will need some extra skills, like using the camera, lighting, etc.) The simplest way is to hire someone to record the speech you made to a live audience.

4) After giving a great speech, most people in the audience would probably be happy to socialize with you. So if there is someone interesting, just approach them and say "hello". Much easier because you do not have to introduce yourself, and you already have a shared interest.

...okay, maybe I oversold it now. I never had a product/service to sell, so I am not speaking from my experience. But this is how I imagine it should work. ;)