Alex Ray

Meeting people and trying things.
AI Research Engineer


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Alex Ray's Shortform

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!

Alex Ray's Shortform

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

Alex Ray's Shortform

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
The tech left behind

+1 Plan 9.

I think it (weirdly) especially hits a strange place with the "forgotten" mark, in that pieces of it keep getting rediscovered (sometimes multiple times).

I got to work w/ some of the Plan 9 folks, and they would point out (with citations) when highly regarded papers in OSDI had been built (and published) in Plan 9, sometimes 10-20 years prior.

One form of this "forgotten" tech is tech that we keep forgetting and rediscovering, but:

  1. maybe this isn't the type of forget the original question is about, and
  2. possibly academia itself is incentivizing this (since instead of only getting one paper out of a good idea, if it can get re-used, then that's good for grad students / labs that need publications)
Alex Ray's Shortform

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)

The tech left behind

I think commercial applications of nuclear fission sources are another good example.

Through the 1940s, there were lots of industrial processes, and commercial products which used nuclear fission or nuclear materials in some way.  Beta sources are good supplies of high-energy electrons (used in a bunch of polymer processes, among other things), alpha sources are good supplies of positively charged nuclei (used in electrostatic discharge, and some sensing applications).

I think one of the big turning points was the Atomic Energy Act, in the US, though international agreements might also be important factors here.

The world seems to have collectively agreed that nuclear risks are high, and we seem to have chosen to restrict proliferation (by regulating production and sale of nuclear materials) -- and as a side effect have "forgotten" the consumer nuclear technology industry.

I am interested in this because its also an example where we seem to have collectively chose to stifle/prevent innovation in an area of technology to reduce downside risk (dirty bombs and other nuclear attacks).

The tech left behind

I think Google Wave/Apache Wave is a good candidate here, at least for the crowd familiar with it.

Designed to be a new modality of digital communication, it combined features of email, messengers/chat, collaborative document editing, etc.

It got a ton of excitement from a niche crowd while it was in a closed beta.

It never got off the ground, though, and less than a year after finishing the beta, it was slowly turned down and eventually handed over to Apache.

How to get the benefits of moving without moving (babble)

I really appreciate how this and the previous posts does a lot to describe and frame the problems that moving would solve, such that it's possible to make progress on them.

I think it's harder to clearly frame the problem (or clearly break a big/vague problem into concrete subproblems).

Anyways, some babbling:

  • Home
    • Redecorate or remodel
    • Arrange a furniture swap with friends and neighbors
    • Marie kondo your stuff
    • Give friends a virtual tour of your space and ask what they would change
    • Ask your friends for virtual tours of their spaces for ideas
    • Have a garage sale / get rid of a bunch of stuff
    • Buy land
    • buy a house
    • buy a condo
  • Work
    • Ask for a raise
    • Ask for a promotion
    • Interview at other companies
    • Get career coaching advice (80k / EA folks are pretty practiced at this!)
    • Give career coaching advice (showing up, as a professional in my 30s, to EA / early career events has been more fulfilling than I thought it would be)
    • Go to conferences in your field
    • Go to conferences in the field you want to be in (strongly recommend this)
    • Join vocational groups (meetups, etc) to connect with folks in your field
    • Give presentations about your job/work at vocational groups
    • Try moving around weekend days (wednesday/sunday?)
    • Try working from home (okay this would probably have been more useful pre-pandemic)
    • Change up your commute (bike or walk or public transit or drive or motorcycle)
    • Join a carpool with people you think are cool to be in cars with
    • Start a carpool with people you think are cool to be in cars with
    • Take an online course (bonus: get your work to pay for it)
    • Get a professional degree (online or night school or whatever)
  • Relationships (mostly not romantic)
    • Make it easy for other people to schedule 1:1s with you (calendly / etc)
    • Reach out to possible mentors you would want to have
    • Reach out to possible mentees (many people I know could be great mentors but are too uncertain to take the first step towards mentorship themselves)
    • Retire a mentor of yours that you're no longer getting lots of value out of (but maybe still be friends?)
    • Start a book club
    • Start a paper reading group
    • Start a running group or gym group
    • Host more parties (post-vaccine)
    • Go to more parties (post-vaccine)
    • Join a monastery / religion / church / etc (not for everyone)
    • Start a religion / etc (I think the anti-digital movement has room for a neo-luddite group to coalesce, but thats a separate post)
  • Other
    • Find a counselor or therapist
    • Turn off your internet after dark
    • Go on a 10 day silent retreat
    • Spend a month in an RV
    • Travel much more often (for me this could be "travel at least 3 days every month" but for others could vary)
Alex Ray's Shortform

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.

Alex Ray's Shortform

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.

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