Covid 12/31: Meet the New Year

Good news. On January 10th it was reported we got another vaccine shipment from Pfizer and are back on track to vaccinate everyone over 16 years old by the end of March, and hopefully to continue lowering the minimum age after that to 12 or below. Vaccination is now open to everyone over 55 years old.

Covid 12/31: Meet the New Year

Three days ago, nearly the same day Zvi posted this, it was announced that Israel will stop vaccination between Jan. 10th and Feb. 1st, because there are not enough doses. During these three weeks, all available doses will be used to give people their second shots.

While the lack of doses is not the Israeli government's fault, this was surely foreseeable; not communicating this earlier (before Jan 30th) will further reduce confidence in the government. When vaccinations resume, I expect people to fight more over their place in line, because they'll be afraid of another pause.

The option of delaying the second dose has been proposed; so far the politicians seem to be against it. Also, one of our higher ranking doctors came out against it with a wonderful quote (idem, emphasis mine):

Prof. Galia Rahav, head of the Infectious Disease Department at the Sheba Medical Center, Israel's largest hospital, said [...] "We are in the midst of an outbreak and cannot afford to experiment on people," she said. "If we were to give just one dose, it would be as if we have done nothing," she said.

It's a good thing Zvi only manages the Delenda Est club for the US, or it would take up most of his posts.

Some numbers: as of yesterday (Jan 2nd), we have vaccinated 1.09 million people, 12.59% of the population. The average vaccination rate for the past week (27.12-03.01) was 81,200 vaccinations per day (more on weekdays, less on the weekend). If this continues for another week, we'll have vaccinated 1.65 million people, or 19% of the population, with a single dose. A good start, and perhaps enough to make a significant change in outcome for the vulnerable populations who were vaccinated, but I assume it's far from enough to drive R below 1.

Disclosure: I am Israeli, and in a prioritized category (chronic illness). I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on 1.1.2021.

Hedonic asymmetries

 it's unclear why the brain would develop the capacity to process pain drastically more intense than this

The brain doesn't have the capacity to correctly process extreme pain. That's why it becomes unresponsive or acts counterproductively. 

The brain has the capacity to perceive extreme pain. This might be because:

  • The brain has many interacting subsystems; the one(s) that react to pain stop working before the ones that perceive it
  • The range of perceivable pain (that is, the range in which we can distinguish stronger from weaker pain) is determined by implementation details of the neural system. If there was an evolutionary benefit to increasing the range, we would expect that to happen. But if the range is greater than necessary, that doesn't mean there's an evolutionary benefit to decreasing it; the simplest/most stable solution stays in place.
Hedonic asymmetries

I'm unsure that "extreme" would necessarily get a more robust response

I meant robust in the sense of decreasing the number of edge cases where the pain is insufficiently strong to motivate the particular individual as strongly as possible. (Since pain tolerance is variable, etc.) Evolution "wants" pain to be a robust feedback/control mechanism that reliably causes the desired amount of avoidance - in this case, the greatest possible amount.

there comes a point where the pain becomes disabling.

That's an excellent point. Why would evolution allow (i.e. not select against) the existence of disabling pain (and fear, etc)? 

Presumably, in the space of genotypes available for selection - in the long term view, and for animals besides humans - there are no cheap solutions that would have an upper cut-off to pain stimuli (below the point of causing unresponsiveness) without degrading the avoidance response to lower levels of pain.

There is also the cutoff argument: a (non-human) animal can't normally survive e.g. the loss of a limb, so it doesn't matter how much pain exactly it feels in that scenario. Some cases of disabling pain fall in this category. 

Finally, evolution can't counteract human ingenuity in torture, because humans act on much smaller timescales. It is to be expected that humans who are actively trying to cause pain (or to imagine how to do so) will succeed in causing amounts of pain beyond most anything found in nature.

Rationalist Town Hall: Pandemic Edition

The Facebook event page gives the time as 9 PM UTC – 11 PM UTC.

Rationalist Town Hall: Pandemic Edition

Sunday November 1st, 12:00PM (PT) to 14:00PM (PT)

Can you please give the time in UTC? I don't trust myself to figure out whether daylight savings time applies to you.

Rationalist Town Hall: Pandemic Edition

What about cross-strain immunity? And how well do we know how many different strains there are, which of them are circulating where, different outcomes etc?

Jam is obsolete

Keeping food frozen costs money. It also risks spoilage if the freezing temporarily fails, which is hard to test for later. If jam is obsolete, it's only for sufficiently rich first world families.

Also, many people like sweet spreads and use jams regardless of their preservation properties.

Could we use current AI methods to understand dolphins?

I think the disparity in number of words is proportionally so large that this method won't work. The (small) hypothetical set of dolphin words wouldn't match to a small subset of English words, because what's being matched is really the (embedded) structure of the relationship between the words, and any sufficiently small subset of English words loses most of its interesting structure because its 'real' structure relates it to many words outside that subset.

Support that dolphins (hypothetically! counterfactually! not realistically!) use only 10 words to talk about fish, but humans use 100 words to do the same. I expect you can't match the relationship structure of the 10 dolphin words to the much more complex structure of the 100 human words. But no subset of ~10 English words out of the 100 is a meaningful subset that humans could use to talk about fish.

Could we use current AI methods to understand dolphins?

The approach of the linked article tries to match words meaning the same thing across languages by separately building a vector embedding of each language corpus and then looking for structural (neighborhood) similarity between the embeddings, with an extra global 'rotation' step mapping the two vector spaces on one another.

So if both languages have a word for "cat", and many other words related to cats, and the relationship between these words is the same in both languages (e.g. 'cat' is close to 'dog' in a different way than it is close to 'food'), then these words can be successfully translated.

But if one language has a tiny vocabulary compared to the other one, and the vocabulary isn't even a subset of the other language's (dolphins don't talk about cats), then you can't get far. Unless you have an English training dataset that only uses words that do have translations in Dolphin. But we don't know what dolphins talk about, so we can't build this dataset.

Also, this is machine learning on text with distinct words; do we even have a 'separate words' parser for dolphin signals?

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