Saving the world in 80 days: Prologue

What is this?

This is an intro to an intensive productivity sprint for becoming useful in the field of AI safety. I'll be posting every week or 4 on the good/bad/ugly of it all. Definitely inspired by Nate Soares' productivity sprint.

Who are you?

Recent graduate in Computer Engineering who has someone to protect


Ultimately to further the field of AI safety. In the process of doing this and writing these posts, I'll:

1. Create a more realistic model of what I can do/ of my limits

2. Receive valuable feedback from other rationalists (that's you!)

3. Radically improve my knowledge of the field & various maths

So what are you going to be doing exactly?

16 hours in a day:

  • Food/hygiene/slack - 4 1/2 hr
  • Current mathy book - 3 hr (How to Prove It, atm)
  • Work - 4 hr (Might change depending on work needs)
  • Current Application - 2 hr (tensorFlow)
  • AI-Safety reading - 1 hr (Miri's research guide)
  • Living Maintenance - 1/2 hr
  • Meditation ~ 1 hr (Doing squirrelInHell's site, specifically this part)

Aren't you going to flounder/fail/burn-out?

I've done 3 other intensive sessions like this in the past. One was a flop and two were quite successful, so I feel prepared for this one. I'm definitely shooting for sustainability here, so I'm trying to figure out my limits without burning out. This could include getting more work done per hour, getting more efficient rest, or varying the amount of slack time given.

My current Murphyjitsu results:

1. I could waste a lot of time on pica. To prevent that, I'm going to notice when I want to leave my current situation and pursue that and just watch that thought/sensation without fueling it. I've developed this skill while meditating, and have had some success already, though I feel like there's more that's missing. Something like I'm quickly making deals with myself such as "You only have to deal with this for a few more minutes, then you're free".

2. I could get uber mentally tired. If so, I'll move on to living maintenance or meditation which I consider mentally relaxing.

3. Trips & friends taking a lot of time. I'm not going to go out of my way to spend time with people, but important trips (weddings, family) I'm going to for sure, and I'm okay with less productivity; I'm just gonna' enjoy the heck out of it.

[Note: I've actually been trying to do this intensive session this past week, but apparently people want to spend time with you after you graduate college or something. I even got food poisoning, lol, but I still managed to get 6 hours into my current book! So I'm officially starting tomorrow after I fully recover]

If you have any questions, comments, derogatory remarks, please comment it! I'll check them once in the mornings (probably)

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The energy from this post is real.

You, sir, just bootstrapped my motivation so here are a few techniques/experiences:

  • Two years ago I wanted to study hard for a really though exam. What I did at the time: I published a status on Facebook saying that I would study 14 hours a day for the next 14 days with my bestfriend, and that if I didn't do it I would pay him 100 euros + give him my favorite sweatshirt. I also published a post on stickk to make the payment official. At that time, I was also waking up everyday before 4:30am for another challenge (similar setting). What I learned: With enough accountability, from (friends, colleagues, family), I can study hard, wake up very early, and do impressive things (when I think about it now, I really had a shit ton of energy at that time). However, mental/physical stretches alone don't necessarily imply that you will achieve something you find meaningful. Yes, I was really productive during this 14 days sprint. But I failed at my exams (my body was exhausted and I got sick two days before) and I didn't even learn anything useful (I studied to pass the exam, and didn't study deeply the material). Practical Advice: 16 hours a day is a long period of time. You might want to shorten this time to maybe 10, or 12 max. I know, when people told me this three years ago, I also thought they were not motivated enough. They were right. Please, try to spend at least 2-4 hours a day doing some really relaxing stuff, go outside, meet people, do something were you're truly uninterested in the results, just wanting to chill. This relaxing time is the most important time of the day, and no, 'I'll move on to living maintenance or meditation which I consider mentally relaxing.' doesn't seem to me like enough relaxation. Meditation is a mental stretch, and living maintenance/food/hygiene(sleeping, shower, food, etc.) does make you more relaxed, but is not really an activity where you can immerse yourself, meet people, talk about your emotions and let off steam. In particular, try not to eat/do living maintenance alone.
  • I used to write down some great plan (like you just did) every month or so, and giving up after one week every time. I remember saying to my friend that I would work more, code at least 4 hours a day, etc. None of this worked for me (in the long term). What I learned: whenever I make a plan (e.g. work 4 hours a day), a) I kind of force myself to do something I don't really want to do. Another way of putting this: I like the result, but I don't like the process (see this book). So, in the long term, I always end up quitting. Furthermore, b) I am always overly optimistic, forgetting life's hazards (planning fallacy). 4 hours a day (in my example) is a lot, and if you're busy all day with something else, you might not even have the time to do it (yesterday's scenario ("So I'm officially starting tomorrow") might happen again). Practical advice: About three weeks ago, I started being absurdly productive, by assigning a color to every 15m of my life on a Google Sheet. For the last five years, I tried to boost my productivity, and this is the technique that worked the best with me so far. Why this works: I don't force myself to do anything. I know what is important to me (writing and seeing people), and, just by looking at the colors, I know if I have been doing random unimportant stuff, or things that I value. In other words, I have enough flexibility to do whatever I like, but it also gives me enough motivation to write for hours, because I emotionally connect with my time. So, as a practical advice, I would say: try to insert more flexibility. This is especially true, given that you said "I'm definitely shooting for sustainability here, so I'm trying to figure out my limits without burning out"

Now, here are some questions about your program:

  • What exactly are you trying to achieve? Ok, you'll be doing some AI Safety reading, and some tensorflow. But like, what is your deeper motivation? Can you state your life-statement in a sentence? You commented on the AISF program in June, do you want to prepare for that? Can you give some more info about "someone to protect"?Feedback: think your post definitely needs a longer introduction (with a real paragraph, not bullet points) about what you're doing and why you're doing it.
  • "Create a more realistic model of what I can do/ of my limits" : what you can do in AI Safety? The impact you can have in the field? Your limits as a Computer Scientist/AI Researcher? Or, are you trying to grasp the limits of your productivity? Your biological limits?
  • "Radically improve my knowledge of the field & various maths" : could you be more specific? What exactly do you fell you're lacking? What would you want to study more? Is there some particular sub-domain that interest you most?

This is quite a long comment, because your post moved me. I also want to deepen my understanding of AI Safety, and also love to challenge my productivity. I will happily comment on your posts. I have been doing a series of daily Less Wrong posts for 12 days in a row, sometimes about AI Safety, sometimes about general AI/Philosophy/Decision Theory, and the energy in this post motivated me to keep writing and to keep pushing my limits. See you on the other side!

I don't think this schedule is overly ambitious in how much time is being dedicated to reading / how "little" to free time. I mean, if we're swapping anecdotes, I probably don't spend more than half an hour on explicit free time per day. Instead, I find ways to enjoy what I'm doing / relax throughout the day, whether it be through music, enjoying some sunshine while I walk and read, or something else entirely.

Wow! Glad good things are already coming out of this!

Thanks for sharing your experiences and the warning with it (this is the type of post I'd like to promote!), though I predict I'll do well in this program due to what TurnTrout said in the other comment: I enjoy a lot of what I'm doing! * actually considers each item *... yep! This is honestly what I'd rather be doing than a lot of things, so I feel like Nate Soares in that regard (in his post I linked).

Regarding my why/motivation/someone to protect, I'm going to leave that for a separate post. I wanted this one to be a short & to the point intro. My why post will be much more poetic and wouldn't fit here, and to separate it more cleanly, I'm referring to a terminal goal here.

Though I would love to clarify my instrumental goals to achieve that terminal goal! Those are those 3 bullet points "better self-model, feedback, & self-improvement".

Better self-model: I would like to ~maximize my usefulness which would require working hard for several years (So closest to "productivity/ biological limits"). Getting the most bang for my buck those years involves finding a sustainable sprint/jog, so I'm making predictions and testing those predictions to get a more accurate self-model.

Self-improvement: I feel lacking in math and technical knowledge of open-problems in AI safety (as well as how progress has been made so far).