Re-reading Rationality From AI To Zombies
Reflections on Premium Poker Tools


Or generally, thinking about things, and removing trivial inconveniences. Are people more likely to exercise during a break, if you bring them some weights?

Ah, great point. That makes a lot of sense. I was thinking about things that are known to be important like exercise and sleep but wasn't really seeing ways to help people with that but trivial inconveniences seem like a problem that people have and is worth solving. I'd think the first step would be either a) looking at existing research/findings for what these trivial inconveniences are likely to be or maybe b) user interviews.

Yeah, the important thing, if he was approached and refused, would be to know why. Then maybe we can do something about it, and maybe we can't.

Yes, absolutely. It reminds me a little bit of Salesforce. Have a list of leads; talk to them; or the ones that don't work out add notes discussing why; over time go through the notes and look for any learnings or insights. (I'm not actually sure if salespeople do this currently.)

Upvoted but disagreed. It isn't my model of what putting out fires feels like most of the time but I'm not sure, it's plausible, and if it's true it's important.

It also makes me think that maybe it's super, critically important to have social norms that make wearing a clown suit not so bad. There are downsides to this of course but if the importance of wearing a clown suit is that high it probably outweighs the downsides enough such that the optimal point on the spectrum is pretty close to "not too uncomfortable wearing the suit".

For a concrete example, consider Devansh. Devansh came to me last year and said something to the effect of, “Hey, wait, it sounds like you think Eliezer does a sort of alignment-idea-generation that nobody else does, and he's limited here by his unusually low stamina, but I can think of a bunch of medical tests that you haven't run, are you an idiot or something?" And I was like, "Yes, definitely, please run them, do you need money".

I've always wondered about things in this general area. Higher levels of action that improve the productivity of alignment researchers (well not just researchers, anyone in the field) seems like a very promising avenue to explore.

For example, I know that for me personally, "dealing with dinner" often takes way longer than I hope, consumes a lot of my time, and makes me less productive. That's a problem that could easily be solved with money (which I'm working towards). Do alignment researchers also face that problem? If so it seems worth solving.

Continuing that thought, some people find cooking to be relaxing and restorative but what about things like cleaning, paperwork, and taxes? Most people find that to be somewhat stressful, right? And reducing stress helps with productivity, right? So maybe some sort of personal assistant a la The 4-Hour Work Week for alignment researchers would make sense.

And for medical stuff, some sort of white glove membership like what Tim Urban describes + resurrecting something like MetaMed to be available as a service for higher-impact people like Eliezer also sounds like it'd make sense.

Or basically anything else that can improve productivity. I was gonna say "at a +ROI" or something, but I feel like it almost always will be. Improved productivity is so valuable, and things like personal assistants are relatively so cheap. It reminds me of something I heard once about rich businesspeople needing private yachts: if the yacht leads to just one more closed deal at the margin then it paid for itself and so is easily worth it. Maybe alignment researchers should be a little more "greedy" in that way.

A different way to improve productivity would be through better pedagogy. Something I always think back to is that in dath ilan "One hour of instruction on a widely-used subject got the same kind of attention that an hour of prime-time TV gets on Earth". I don't get the sense that AI safety material is anywhere close to that level. Bringing it to that point would mean that researchers -- senior, junior, prospective -- would have an easier time going through the material, which would improve their productivity.

I'm not sure how impactful it would be to attract new researchers vs empowering existing ones, but if attracting new researchers is something that would be helpful I suspect that career guidance sorts of things would really yield a lot of new researchers.

Well, I had "smart SWE at Google who is interested in doing alignment research" in mind here. Another angle is recruiting top mathematicians and academics like Terry Tao. I know that's been discussed before and perhaps pursued lightly, but I don't get the sense that it's been pursued heavily. Being able to recruit people like Terry seems incredibly high impact though. At the very least it seems worth exploring the playbooks of people in related fields like executive recruiters and look for anything actionable.

Probably more though. If you try to recruit an individual like Terry there's an X% chance of having a Y% impact. OTOH, if you come across a technique regarding such recruitment more generally, then it's an X% chance of finding a technique that has a Y% chance of working on Z different people. Multiplying by Z seems kinda big, and so learning how to "do recruitment" seems pretty worthwhile.

A lot of this stuff requires money. Probably a lot of it. But that's a very tractable problem, I think. And maybe establishing that ~$X would yield ~Y% more progress would inspire donors. Is that something that has been discovered before in other fields?

Or maybe funding is something that is already in abundance? I recall hearing that this is the case and that the limitation is ideas. That never made sense to me though. I see a lot of things like those white glove medical memberships that seem obviously worthwhile. Are all the alignment researchers in NYC already members of The Lanby for $325/month? Do they have someone to clean their apartments? If not and if funding truly is abundant, then I "feel shocked that everyone's dropping the ball".

Good point. And I like that phrasing of "not rigorously true, but not importantly false either". Maybe I'm being too literal and it's just clear to everyone that the true message is that it's worthwhile to put effort into breakfast. I'm not sure. But even if that is the message I still suspect the author isn't confident of it, in which case a weaker version of what I was saying in the post applies.

I'm sure some do believe it literally, but it's a belief that pays no rent, so there's no harm whether they're right or wrong on any given day for any given person.

I don't think that 1) it pays no rent or 2) it does harm on any given day for any given person are true. For (1) the rent it pays is the prediction that eating (a good) breakfast will have physical/cognitive/whatever benefits. For (2) this is a bit of a stretch, but I could see someone who buys a version of the breakfast idea making an effort to sit down and have a big plate of pancakes, eggs and bacon every morning and subsequently feeling lethargic every day. It's probably not too harmful most of the time though, so I'm only quibbling here.

quite possibly a corporate marketing ploy

Oh, interesting. I actually don't think I've ever had that thought but I could see it. Still gotta work on my cynicism.

the lack of rigor doesn't bring it to the level of "bullshit", IMO.

I'm not sure I understand your point here. Are you saying that because it is such a popular meme it's clear to people that they're "just words" and that the speaker doesn't actually mean them?

I suspect that "just noticing" is the most important thing here. Here's what I mean.

Having the thought of "hm, maybe my desire for status is having a corrosive effect here" is one thing. What you do next -- asking what the Rob Bensinger shoulder model says vs what the Habryka model says -- is a different thing. I think that the first thing is both 1) a lot harder and 2) a lot more important.

Periodic journaling/reflecting seems like a good way to get yourself to "just notice". Perhaps with some sort of "status can be corrosive" writing prompt.

OTOH, getting yourself to notice in the moment -- ie. "I'm considering asking for feedback on this document, I wonder how my concern for status is affecting this" -- seems kinda impractical. Our minds are on automatic too much. It reminds me of the "every battle is won before it is ever fought" quote. When you're in the moment the battle has usually already been won or lost.

In fact, both wealth and power are pretty vague, or at least context-dependent words. They're not a precise description of anything, and probably should be avoided if you want to actually communicate.

Yeah I think that's my takeaway here. Going into this I figured that there was in fact some sort of decently narrow definition of "wealth" that I wasn't understanding but now I'm pretty confident that there isn't.

Etymology isn't a reliable guide to what words mean now, but in a case like this one where there isn't a universally agreed definition it seems like it might be worth a look.


The "-th" in "wealth" is the same as in growth, health, sloth (= slow-th), warmth, etc. And "weal" just means "wellbeing"; "weal" and "well" are originally the same word. So wealth is whatever confers or constitutes wellbeing. When the word "wealth" first existed, it was mostly pretty much synonymous with "wellbeing".

Interesting! Thanks for explaining.

But it was always also able to mean, more specifically, "worldly" goods, valuable physical possessions, especially ones that you could exchange for other things you value.

Not to shoot the messenger but this is starting to feel like a pretty different thing from wellbeing to me.

less-central examples

Thanks for pointing to this idea of centrality. From Similarity Clusters: "A dictionary is best thought of, not as a book of Aristotelian class definitions, but a book of hints for matching verbal labels to similarity clusters, or matching labels to properties that are useful in distinguishing similarity clusters.". That's an idea that I needed to be reminded of and seems very relevant here. Wealth appears to be a term that doesn't actually have a precise definition. Instead there are various concepts that kinda form clusters and have some distance to whatever is at the center, the prototypical example of wealth.

I'm leaning on the OED here, and here's something informative: its sense 4.

Thanks for digging this up. Good to know.

Interesting. I like that point about potential. I think it is similar to what Ericf was saying about wealth and value. That wealth is the ability to continuously generate value.

If your house has a movie theater but you have no free time to enjoy it, I see how you might not want to count that as wealth because you don't actually have an ability to derive value from it. But I'm hesitant. If you solve the free time problem, now the movie theater does generate value. So it's better to have the movie theater than to not have it. That seems like it should count for something. After talking this through in the comments I'm seeing that ultimately there are a bunch of subtly different concepts out there and we don't really have clear and widely known names for each of the concepts (it's possible that in some subfield of eg. economics they've thought about these things and come up with terminology).

Something I'm realizing in the comments is that different people seem to have notably different ideas about what wealth means. That makes me think that the concept of wealth itself is either too fuzzy or not taught well.

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