Wiki Contributions


Can we grow cars instead of building them?

EDIT: I now see you research these questions and so want to add a disclaimer that I have not thought about these things nearly as deeply as you probably have...

Epistemic status: very speculative.

Cool post, I've long been fond of the, likely less difficult, thought experiment of whether we can grow a house using synthetic biology.

At first, I was thinking growing vs. building was just about the amount of labor involved to go from raw materials to final product. Then I realized this doesn't work because under this definition a fully automated robot factory would qualify as growing a car.

My next best guess is that "growing" is related to:

  • the system containing its own description,
  • the system maintaining itself given "raw" materials, and
  • an aesthetic component that connects growing to things that look and feel biological.

In terms of KPIs, the first things that come to mind are metrics like:

  • How small a seed can the system bootstrap itself from given raw materials and otherwise little to no outside intervention?
  • Can the system repair itself when damaged?
Kelly Bet or Update?

This and the linked post have been really helpful for my attempts to better internalize the Kelly Criterion. Thanks!

EDIT: I see you've corrected the mistake with the 12% and 2.7x return that I originally discussed below in a subsequent post so the details below aren't necessary. Maybe consider linking that post in the Addendum?

Mostly unrelated to the above, this is sort of a nitpick but between the body and the addendum, you (implicitly) switch from the odds-as-ratio-of-probabilities representation of to one in which is net fractional odds and is assumed to be . I know this makes sense because you're explicitly talking about bets in the final section but I'm bringing it up because it might throw off someone who hasn't read as many discussions of Kelly.

True Stories of Algorithmic Improvement

Another great example of this is Striped Smith-Waterman, which takes advantage of SIMD instructions to achieve a 2-8 speed-up (potentially much more on modern CPUs though) for constructing sequence local alignments.

(I'm the author of the post.) This is a totally reasonable critique, which I tried to make of myself:

Wrapping things up, I find all this analysis still a bit dissatisfying. While I’ve tried to use the commonalities amongst and differences between energetic aliens to understand them better, I feel like all the factors I identified describe rather than explain what’s going on with energetic aliens. A more satisfying understanding would instead at least suggest candidate causal factors which are predictive of energetic alienness warranting further investigation. Of course, this is also why this essay is called the neglected mystery rather than the resolved mystery.

That said, part of the challenge is that coming up with good theories is really hard here and risks touching on controversial issues, so warrants being careful! If you, or anyone else has such theories, I'd love to hear them.

Let Us Do Our Work As Well

As someone who has also struggled with similar issues, although in a different context than writing papers, I found some of the answers here helpful and could imagine some of them as good "tactical advice" to go along with cultural norms. I also ended up looking through Google's SRE book as recommended in Gwern's answer and benefited from it even though it's focused on software infrastructure. In particular, the idea of treating knowledge production as a complex system helped knock me out of my "just be careful" mindset, which I think is often one of the harder things to scale. Of course, YMMV.

That makes sense.

For what it's worth, I took notes on the event and did not share them publicly because it was pretty clear to me doing so would have been a defection, even though it was implicit. Obviously, just because it was clear to me doesn't mean it was clear to everyone but I thought it still made sense to share this as a data point in favor of "very well known person doing a not recorded meetup" implying "don't post and promote your notes publicly."

I am also disappointed to see that this post is so highly upvoted and positively commented upon despite:

  1. Presumably others were aware of the fact that the meetup was not supposed to be recorded and LW is supposedly characteristically aware of coordination problems/defection/impact on incentives. At least to me, it seems likely that in expectation this post spreading widely would make Sam and people like him less likely to speak at future events and less trustworthy of the community that hosted the event. This seems not worth the benefit of having the notes posted given that people who were interested could have attended the event or asked someone about it privately.
  2. As Sean McCarthy and others pointed out, there were some at best misleading portrayals of what Altman said during his Q&A.
Framing Practicum: Timescale Separation
  1. Returning to my number of muscle cells an adult human body example (from the initial stable equilibrium post), for the purposes of calculating lean vs. fat mass (or just weight), we don't care about the fact that the distribution shifts as the person ages and experiences sarcopenia.
  2. For predator-prey population size ratios, the ratio fluctuates slightly on a daily basis assuming the predators hunt at certain times of the day and potentially seasonally. Assuming both species live more than a year, neither matters for estimating the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for the predator species.
  3. For calculating the average body temperature of a species, we can mostly ignore real but small fluctuations that occur throughout the day due to circadian rhythms, digestion, etc.
Framing Practicum: Dynamic Equilibrium
  1. Number of cells in an adult human body. Also, cell type composition in an adult human body (over the timescale of months but not years because aging).
  2. Relative size of predator/prey species population in a mature, mostly otherwise static ecosystem.
  3. Warm-blooded mammal body temperature.
Framing Practicum: Bistability
  1. Most complex eukaryotic organisms are either dead or alive. Yes, they can be sick, which is sort of in between, but sick is still "alive". In general, going from dead to alive is hard... Going from alive to dead requires disrupting any of several important core sub-equilibria of the living system.
  2. It's snowing out vs. not. Note: didn't use raining because "misting" felt like more of an in between edge case than lightly snowing.
  3. A door is either open or closed. Depending on the door, switching from closed to open or open to closed requires applying force and maybe adding some sort of friction device to keep the system in its new state.
  4. (Cheating because I've seen this before.) Some natural and designed proteins function as switches with multiple stable states of comparable free energies.
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