Alex Ray's Shortform

by Alex Ray8th Nov 202010 comments
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Can LessWrong pull another "crypto" with Illinois?

I have been following the issue with the US state Illinois' debt with growing horror.

Their bond status has been heavily degraded -- most states' bonds are "high quality" with the standards agencies (moodys, standard & poor, fitch), and Illinois is "low quality".  If they get downgraded more they become a "junk" bond, and lose access to a bunch of the institutional buyers that would otherwise be continuing to lend.

COVID has increased many states costs', for reasons I can go into later, so it seems reasonable to think we're much closer to a tipping point than we were last year.

As much as I would like to work to make the situation better I don't know what to do.  In the meantime I'm left thinking about how to "bet my beliefs" and how one could stake a position against Illinois.

Separately I want to look more into EU debt / restructuring / etc as its probably a good historical example of how this could go.  Additionally previously the largest entity to go bankrupt in the USA was the city of Detroit, which probably is also another good example to learn from.

COVID has increased many states costs', for reasons I can go into later, so it seems reasonable to think we're much closer to a tipping point than we were last year.

As much as I would like to work to make the situation better I don't know what to do.  In the meantime I'm left thinking about how to "bet my beliefs" and how one could stake a position against Illinois.

Is the COVID tipping point consideration making you think that the bonds are actually even worse than the "low quality" rating suggests? (Presumably the low ratings are already baked into the bond prices.)

Looking at this more, I think I my uncertainty is resolving towards "No".

Some things:
- It's hard to bet against the bonds themselves, since we're unlikely to hold them as individuals
- It's hard to make money on the "this will experience a sharp decline at an uncertain point in the future" kind of prediction (much easier to do this for the "will go up in price" version, which is just buying/long)
- It's not clear anyone was able to time this properly for Detroit, which is the closest analog in many ways
- Precise timing would be difficult, much more so while being far away from the state

I'll continue to track this just because of my family in the state, though.

Point of data: it was 3 years between Detroit bonds hitting "junk" status, and the city going bankrupt (in the legal filing sense), which is useful for me for intuitions as to the speed of these.

1. What am I missing from church?

(Or, in general, by lacking a religious/spiritual practice I share with others)

For the past few months I've been thinking about this question.

I haven't regularly attended church in over ten years.  Given how prevalent it is as part of human existence, and how much I have changed in a decade, it seems like "trying it out" or experimenting is at least somewhat warranted.

I predict that there is a church in my city that is culturally compatible with me.

Compatible means a lot of things, but mostly means that I'm better off with them than without them, and they're better off with me than without me.

Unpacking that probably will get into a bunch of specifics about beliefs, epistemics, and related topics -- which seem pretty germane to rationality.

2. John Vervaeke's Awakening from the Meaning Crisis is bizzarely excellent.

I don't exactly have handles for exactly everything it is, or exactly why I like it so much, but I'll try to do it some justice.

It feels like rationality / cognitive tech, in that it cuts at the root of how we think and how we think about how we think.

(I'm less than 20% through the series, but I expect it continues in the way it has been going.)

Maybe it's partially his speaking style, and partially the topics and discussion, but it reminded me strongly of sermons from childhood.

In particular: they have a timeless quality to them.  By "timeless" I mean I think I would take away different learnings from them if I saw them at different points in my life.

In my work & research (and communicating this) -- I've largely strived to be clear and concise.  Designing for layered meaning seems antithetical to clarity.

However I think this "timelessness" is a missing nutrient to me, and has me interested in seeking it out elsewhere.

For the time being I at least have a bunch more lectures in the series to go!

Thinking more about the singleton risk / global stable totalitarian government risk from Bostrom's Superintelligence, human factors, and theory of the firm.

Human factors represent human capacities or limits that are unlikely to change in the short term.  For example, the number of people one can "know" (for some definition of that term), limits to long-term and working memory, etc.

Theory of the firm tries to answer "why are economies markets but businesses autocracies" and related questions.  I'm interested in the subquestion of "what factors given the upper bound on coordination for a single business", related to "how big can a business be".

I think this is related to "how big can an autocracy (robustly/stably) be", which is how it relates to the singleton risk.

Some thoughts this produces for me:

  • Communication and coordination technology (telephones, email, etc) that increase the upper bounds of coordination for businesses ALSO increase the upper bound on coordination for autocracies/singletons
  • My belief is that the current max size (in people) of a singleton is much lower than current global population
  • This weakly suggests that a large global population is a good preventative for a singleton
  • I don't think this means we can "war of the cradle" our way out of singleton risk, given how fast tech moves and how slow population moves
  • I think this does mean that any non-extinction event that dramatically reduces population also dramatically increases singleton risk
  • I think that it's possible to get a long-term government aligned with the values of the governed, and "singleton risk" is the risk of an unaligned global government

So I think I'd be interested in tracking two "competing" technologies (for a hand-wavy definition of the term)

  1. communication and coordination technologies -- tools which increase the maximum effective size of coordination
  2. soft/human alignment technologies -- tools which increase alignment between government and governed

Did Bostrom ever call it singleton risk? My understanding is that it's not clear that a singleton is more of an x-risk than its negative; a liberal multipolar situation under which many kinds of defecting/carcony factions can continuously arise.

I don't know if he used that phrasing, but he's definitely talked about the risks (and advantages) posed by singletons.

Future City Idea: an interface for safe AI-control of traffic lights

We want a traffic light that
* Can function autonomously if there is no network connection
* Meets some minimum timing guidelines (for example, green in a particular direction no less than 15 seconds and no more than 30 seconds, etc)
* Secure interface to communicate with city-central control
* Has sensors that allow some feedback for measuring traffic efficiency or throughput

This gives constraints, and I bet an AI system could be trained to optimize efficiency or throughput within the constraints.  Additionally, you can narrow the constraints (for example, only choosing 15 or 16 seconds for green) and slowly widen them in order to change flows slowly.

This is the sort of thing Hash would be great for, simulation wise.  There's probably dedicated traffic simulators, as well.

At something like a quarter million dollars a traffic light, I think there's an opportunity here for startup.

(I don't know Matt Gentzel's LW handle but credit for inspiration to him)

I expect that the functioning of traffic lights is regulated in a way that makes it hard for a startup to deploy such a system.

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