Ben Pace

I'm an admin of this site; I work full-time on trying to help people on LessWrong refine the art of human rationality. (Longer bio.)

I generally feel more hopeful about a situation when I understand it better.


AI Alignment Writing Day 2019
Transcript of Eric Weinstein / Peter Thiel Conversation
AI Alignment Writing Day 2018
Share Models, Not Beliefs


The first sounds like the sort of thing that turns out to be surprisingly useful (nobody ever gives me health advice). Mm, maybe folks can agree-react to this sentence if they too want to go to such a session?

Nice, just had a good call with Alkjash, who is coming and will be preparing 2 layman-level math talks about questions he's been thinking about.

Other ideas we chatted about having at LessOnline include maybe having some discussions about doing research inside and outside of academia, and also about learning from GlowFic writers how to write well collaboratively. (Let me know if you'd be interested in either of these!)

I think on-site housing is pretty scarce, though we're going to make more high-density rooms in response to demand for that. Tickets aren't scarce, our venue could fit like a 700 person event, so I don't expect to hit the limits.

Still working on setting it up, once I have the details I'll announce them (e.g. pricing and whatnot).

I'm aiming to have childcare available in some form for the full 9-day LessOnline-to-Summer-Camp-to-Manifest period. I'm excited for folks to come with their full families.

Also here are some sessions tentatively scheduled (some may change):

  1. Fighting Moloch in Politics talk/Q&A with Martin Sustrik
  2. One-Shot 'Baba Is You' Rationality Exercises activity with Raymond Arnold
  3. Write Your First Fact-Post activity led by Sarah Constantin
  4. Currently Untitled Sequel to And All the Shoggoths Merely Players narrated by Zack Davis and John Wentworth
  5. Write Your First Glowfic activity led by Alicorn
  6. Podcast and Q&A with Alexander Wales (author of Worth the Candle) and Daystar Eld, moderated by Jamie Wahls
  7. Wanted: People Who Want by Jacob Falkovich
  8. Magic-The-Gathering Color Wheel for Writers talk by Duncan Sabien

Question: What is this event celebrating?

I've been trying to think a bit about the boundary of this event. Naturally I love LessWrong, but it's not simply about LessWrong.

This is not comprehensive, but here are three subcultures that I admire and am hoping to celebrate at this event.

  1. Aspiring Rationalists – people interested in understanding and improving their cognitive algorithms
  2. Rational Fiction Readers & Writers – people who write fiction that illustrate intelligent characters and lawful worlds
  3. Public Worldview Builders and/or Polymaths – people earnestly trying to directly understand the world and explain what they’ve learned with online writing

Below are a few notes about each of them and what I hope from bringing them together.

Aspiring Rationalists

I continue to believe the mission to understand our cognitive algorithms and improve them is a worthwhile one, and there's still lots of people working on advancing this, whether it's finding new theoretical underpinnings for decision-making or coming up with pragmatic heuristics for improving the truth-tracking nature of discussions or building up models for how the world is trying to fight your ability to understand it or something quite different.

I'm hoping to bring folks together who are interested in this mission and give them the ability to get ideas from other people who have been working on this too.

Rational Fiction Readers & Writers

Near to the aspiring rationalists is Rational Fiction. For detailed pointers to it check the description in the r/rational subreddit sidebar or the TV Tropes Page, but broadly it really respects the characters' intelligence and the rules of how the fictional world works. It's the sort of story where a key plot point might involve doing a fermi estimate for how much steel is required to withstand a given magical blast, or where a key moment of dramatic tension involves the protagonist carefully reasoning about their situation and reaching a novel conclusion, one that in-principle the reader themselves could've deduced given the information that they had available.

This community is very active and large! r/rational has 25k subscribers, and the best works are extremely popular. At the time of publication Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality had the most reviews (37k) of any work on (now second most) and is the most followed HP-fic (22k), Mother of Learning has the most views (18M) on Royal Road, and Worth the Candle is the 3rd most read original fiction on Archive of Our Own (I started it a month ago and am now 220 chapters in, no spoilers please). There's so many more amazing works, I'd guess like 300-1,000 rational-fics (especially counting all of the Glow-Fics).

I think this often (not always) has a similar nature to the old hard sci-fi, where people try to set up rules of a world and really ask what would follow from these rules, and authors put in a lot of work to be very creative-and-lawful.

I’m hoping to bring people together to talk about stories and the ideas that go into them and come away with lots of new ideas for stories they could write.

Public Worldview Builders and/or Polymaths

(This bit is something Ray helped a lot in writing)

There’s a style of discourse that has felt pretty important to me. It used to be kinda The Central Thing going on on the internet. It’s become less so, with the rise of social media. That Thing is a bit hard to pin down, but it’s something like:  

“Longform, thoughtful writing, earnestly trying to figure stuff out.”  

LessOnline is a festival celebrating that kind of writing. Furthermore, I have a strong hunch that there’s a craft that everyone invited is involved with in some way — an art of paying attention to the information you get about the world, piecing things together into a coherent perspective, extracting strong arguments to show to others, writing in a way that’s engaging and clear, and leaving people with a little bit of a better understanding of the world, that altogether hopefully adds up to leave me and humanity with a much more accurate and more leveraged map of the world.

The idea here is to invite the part of the blogosphere that seems sort of like "kindred spirits" to LessWrong, approaching similar kinds of questions from different perspectives. I think one framing is "we're looking for people who are publicly building out cohesive worldview in public."

I’m hoping to bring such people together to share ideas they’ve been thinking about and knowledge they’ve learned, and also to share insights about the shared craft. 

An quick and incomplete list of other subcultures I'm excited about bringing together

Econ Blogosphere, Statistics Blogosphere, History Blogosphere, Finance Blogosphere, The Nerdy Cartoon-O-Sphere (e.g. XKCD, SMBC, Abstruse Goose, many more), Agent Foundations researchers, Genetic Enhancement researchers, more.

Not sure where the right place to raise this complaint, but having just seen it for the first time, really, "MARS"? I checked, this is not affiliated with MATS who have had like 6 programs and ~300 people go through it. To me this seems too close in branding space to me, and I'd recommend picking a more distinct name.

Oh cool! Um, first thought, register interest in this?

Update #1

Lots of info to share! Here's a bunch of awesome people confirmed as coming.

Eliezer YudkowskyThe Sequences | HPMOR | Project Lawful
Scott AlexanderSlateStarCodex | Astral Codex Ten | UNSONG
Zvi MowshowitzThe Zvi | Don't Worry About The Vase
Alexander WalesWorth the Candle | Alexander Wales
Kevin SimlerMelting Asphalt | The Elephant in the Brain
Katja GraceWorld Spirit Sock Puppet | AI Impacts
Sarah ConstantinRough Diamonds
Martin Sustrik250bpm | LW
Duncan SabienHomo Sabiens | r!Animorphs
John WentworthLW
Abram DemskiLW
AlicornAlicorn | LW
Jacob FalkovichPutANumOnIt | LW
Zack DavisLW
Daystar EldDaystar Eld
Ozy BrennanThing of Things

Two activities I'm personally quite excited to go to are Sarah Constantin's "Write Your First Fact Post" and Alicorn's "Write Your First GlowFic" (I want to try to do both of these things!).

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