All of DanArmak's Comments + Replies

Nuclear power has the highest chance of The People suddenly demanding it be turned off twenty years later for no good reason. Baseload shouldn't be hostage to popular whim.

Thanks for pointing this out!

A few corollaries and alternative conclusions to the same premises:

  1. There are two distinct interesting things here: a magic cross-domain property that can be learned, and an inner architecture that can learn it.
  2. There may be several small efficient architectures. The ones in human brains may not be like the ones in language models. We have plausibly found one efficient architecture; this is not much evidence about unrelated implementations.
  3. Since the learning is transferable to other domains, it's not language specific. Large
... (read more)

Thanks! This, together with gjm's comment, is very informative.

How is the base or fundamental frequency chosen? What is special about the standard ones?

There isn't really anything special: you could take almost any piece of music and shift it up or down a few percent without affecting how people experience it very much. On the other hand, if you have multiple instruments together, it matters a lot that they agree on what frequencies to use. We've generally standardized on setting A=440Hz, and everything else relative to that. Aside: this was a real missed opportunity, because it puts C very close to 256Hz but not quite there. We could have had 2^N Hz be C for all N! Some instruments have notes or keys that they are best at. For example, a singer will have some minimum and maximum note, and perhaps some areas in between that sound better or worse, which means that for any given piece of music there is a (often narrow) range of keys where it will fit best. Other instruments, like a flute or trumpet have some keys that fall very naturally on the instrument (D and Bb respectively), while other some other keys require awkward fingerings. Some instruments (bagpipes, anglo concertina, tin whistle) can even only be played in one or a few keys, because they are missing notes that would be needed for other keys.

the sinking of the Muscovy

Is this some complicated socio-political ploy denying the name Moskva / Moscow and going back to the medieval state of Muscovy?

Calm down, they just mistranslated the name of the ship that went... okay, sorry, they mistranslated "Moskva"

I'm a moral anti-realist; it seems to me to be a direct inescapable consequence of materialism.

I tried looking at definitions of moral relativism, and it seems more confused than moral realism vs. anti-realism. (To be sure there are even more confused stances out there, like error theory...)

Should I take it that Peterson and Harris are both moral realists and interpret their words in that light? Note that this wouldn't be reasoning about what they're saying, for me, it would be literally interpreting their words, because people are rarely precise, and mora... (read more)

Yes. I believe neither Peterson nor Harris is a moral anti-realist. Yes. I think you understand the debate correctly.

When Peterson argues religion is a useful cultural memeplex, he is presumably arguing for all of (Western monotheistic) religion. This includes a great variety of beliefs, rituals, practices over space and time - I don't think any of these have really stayed constant across the major branches of Judaism, Christianity and Islam over the last two thousand years. If we discard all these incidental, mutable characteristics, what is left as "religion"?

One possible answer (I have no idea if Peterson would agree): the structure of having shared community beliefs ... (read more)

They are both pro free speech and pro good where "good" is what a reasonable person would think of as "good".

I have trouble parsing that definition. You're defining "good" by pointing at "reasonable". But people who disagree on what is good, will not think each other reasonable.

I have no idea what actual object-level concept of "good" you meant. Can you please clarify?

For example, you go on to say:

They both agree that religion has value.

I'm not sure whether religion has (significant, positive) value. Does that make me unreasonable?

I mean Peterson and Harris both support "good" as opposed to "moral relativism" where there is no good, there is no evil. Moral relativism is a philosophy without objective goodness e.g. Nietzsche: there is only will to power. There are many competing definitions of "good". Peterson and Harris agree that the concept of "good" shouldn't be thrown away entirely. Which definition of "good" we use is not important to the Peterson-Harris debate. In the context of this debate, not. I'm using "reasonable" the way legal scholars use "reasonable": for having to avoid defining nebulous-yet-commonly-used words.

Amazon using an (unknown secret) algorithm to hire or fire Flex drivers is not a instance of "AI", not even in the buzzword sense of AI = ML. For all we know it's doing something trivially simple, like combining a few measured properties (how often they're on time, etc.) with a few manually assigned weights and thresholds. Even if it's using ML, it's going to be something much more like a bog standard Random Forest model trained on 100k rows with no tuning, than a scary powerful language model with a runaway growth trend.

Even if some laws are passed about ... (read more)

Epistemic status: wild guessing:

  1. If the US has submarine locators (or even a theory or a work-in-progress), it has to keep them secret. The DoD or Navy might not want to reveal them to any Representatives. This would prevent them from explaining to those Representatives why submarine budgets should be lowered in favor of something else.

  2. A submarine locator doesn't stop submarines by itself; you still presumably need to bring ships and/or planes to where the submarines are. If you do this ahead of time and just keep following the enemy subs around, they

... (read more)

Now write the scene where Draco attempts to convince his father to accept Quirrel points in repayment of the debt.

"You see, Father, Professor Quirrel has promised to grant any school-related wish within his power to whoever has the most Quirrel points. If Harry gives his points to me, I will have the most points by far. Then I can get Quirrel to teach students that blood purism is correct, or that it would be rational to follow the Dark Lord if he returns, or to make me the undisputed leader of House Slytherin. That is worth far more than six thousand gall... (read more)

I don't see an advantage

A potential advantage of inactivated virus vaccine is that it can raise antibodies for all viral proteins and not just a subunit of the spike protein, which would make it harder for future strains to evade the immunity. I think this is also the model implicitly behind this claim that natural immunity (from being infected with the real virus) is stronger than the immunity gained from subunit (eg mRNA) vaccines. (I make no claim that that study is reliable, and just on priors it probably should be ignored.)

direct sources are more and more available to the public... But simultaneously get less and less trustworthy.

The former helps cause the latter. Sources that aren't available to the public, or are not widely read by the public for whatever reason, don't face the pressure to propagandize - either to influence the public, and/or to be seen as ideologically correct by the public.

Of course influencing the public only one of several drives to distort or ignore the truth, and less public fora are not automatically trustworthy.

Suppose that TV experience does influence dreams - or the memories or self-reporting of dreams. Why would it affect specifically and only color?

Should we expect people who watch old TV to dream in low resolution and non-surround sound? Do people have poor reception and visual static in their black and white dreams? Would people who grew up with mostly over the border transmissions dream in foreign languages, or have their dreams subtitled or overdubbed? Would people who grew up with VCRs have pause and rewind controls in their dreams?

Some of these effects... (read more)

My pet theory [] would answer as follows. 1. Color vision is an aspect of sensory experience that we can do without for most upstream perception, largely because our eyes actually have a grayscale mode for low-light conditions. 2. People are surprisingly insensitive to sound quality or even mono vs stereo under ordinary conditions. This theory predicts that the population in question would in fact dream in mono sound, but might have a hard time noticing or reporting that fact. 3. Visual static or noise tends to be filtered out by perception, except when it overwhelms the signal. This theory would predict that people who live in areas with decent reception would not have static or noise in their dreams, while people who live in areas with unacceptable reception also wouldn’t (because their brains wouldn’t even be able to entrain to the story), but in a critical band where TV signal strength is highly variable dependent on atmospheric conditions, people might sometimes experience bursts of visual static in their dreams. 4. Visual artifacts of film/video/TV that are plausible to the brain as actual optical phenomena, such as softly glowing halos around bright edges, might sometimes be incorporated into the experience of dreaming. 5. People whose experiences of storytelling predominantly involves a foreign language would tend to dream in that language. 6. When consuming media with subtitles, the visual stimulus of the subtitles is removed (and potentially even inpainted, as with the eyes’ blind spots), with the subtitle information rerouted to a language-processing area, which uses it to fill in the missing meanings from the audio stream. So, in reversed-perception dreaming, people whose experience with storytelling was heavily subtitled would experience dre

Epistemic status: anecdote.

Most of the dreams I've ever had (and remembered in the morning) were not about any kind of received story (media, told to me, etc). They were all modified versions of my own experiences, like school, army, or work, sometimes fantastically distorted, but recognizably about my experiences. A minority of dreams has been about stories (eg a book I read), usually from a first person point of view (eg. a self insert into the book).

So for me, dreams are stories about myself. And I wonder: if these people had their dreams influenced by ... (read more)

I've definitely dreamed about being in a Minecraft world doing Minecraft things (actually in the world myself - not sitting at a computer), and likewise for other video games I've played extensively.

He's saying that it's extremely hard to answer those questions about edge detectors. We have little agreement on whether we should be concerned about the experiences of bats or insects, and it's similarly unobvious whether we should worry about the suffering of edge detectors.

Being concerned implies 1) something has experiences 2) they can be negative / disliked in a meaningful way 3) we morally care about that.

I'd like to ask about the first condition: what is the set of things that might have experience, things whose experiences we might try to unders... (read more)

This is a question similar to "am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?". Both statements are incompatible with any other empirical or logical belief, or with making any predictions about future experiences. Therefore, the questions and belief-propositions are in some sense meaningless. (I'm curious whether this is a theorem in some formalized belief structure.)

For example, there's an argument about B-brains that goes: simple fluctuations are vastly more likely than complex ones; therefore almost all B-brains that fluctuate into existence will exist for ... (read more)

1Quintin Pope1y
Also typo: “reportis” (“is” belongs to a hyperlink, so the typo may look like “report[is” depending on your editor).

Let's take the US government as a metaphor. Instead of saying it's composed of the legislative, executive, and judicial modules, Kurzban would describe it as being made up of modules such as a White House press secretary

Both are useful models of different levels of the US government. Is the claim here that there is no useful model of the brain as a few big powerful modules that aggregate sub-modules? Or is it merely that others posit merely a few large modules, whereas Kurzban thinks we must model both small and large agents at once?

We don't ask "what

... (read more)
Kurzban doesn't directly address the question of whether it's ever useful to model the mind as made of a few big parts. I presume he would admit they can sometimes be reasonable models to use. He's mostly focused on showing that those big parts don't act like very unified agents. That seems consistent with sometimes using simpler, less accurate models. He certainly didn't convince me to stop using the concepts of system 1 and system 2. I took his arguments as a reminder that those concepts were half-assed approximations. He's saying that it's extremely hard to answer those questions about edge detectors. We have little agreement on whether we should be concerned about the experiences of bats or insects, and it's similarly unobvious whether we should worry about the suffering of edge detectors.

Finding the percentage of "immigrants" is misleading, since it's immigrants from Mexico and Central America who are politically controversial, not generic "immigrants" averaged over all sources.

I'm no expert on American immigration issues, but I presume this is because most immigrants come in through the (huge) south land border, and are much harder for the government to control than those coming in by air or sea.

However, I expect immigrants from any other country outside the Americas would be just as politically controversial if large numbers of them s... (read more)

The question is whether immigrants have different political positions than natives. Latinos (and especially non-Cuban Latinos) absolutely have different political positions than average natives, and immigration consisting largely of them would in fact have the effect that Caplan denies. I expect that if lots of them (or their descendants) voted for Republicans, they wouldn't be politically controversial, because the Democrats and the left are spearheading the push for more immigration, and they would abruptly stop doing so. (This would not be compensated by Republicans pushing for them, because Republicans have no power to make such a push.)

immigrants are barely different from natives in their political views, and they adopt a lot of the cultural values of their destination country.

The US is famous for being culturally and politically polarized. What does it even mean for immigrants to be "barely different from natives" politically? Do they have the same (polarized) spread of positions? Do they all fit into one of the existing political camps without creating a new one? Do they all fit into the in-group camp for Caplan's target audience?

And again:

[Caplan] finds that immigrants are a tin

... (read more)
Finding the percentage of "immigrants" is misleading, since it's immigrants from Mexico and Central America who are politically controversial, not generic "immigrants" averaged over all sources. Statistics show [] that Latinos vote around 2/3 for the Democrats. That's a pretty big imbalance. And it's even more imbalanced than those statistics show because Cubans are likely to vote Republican, and the immigrants who are the center of current political controversy don't include Cubans.

bad configurations can be selected against inside the germinal cells themselves or when the new organism is just a clump of a few thousand cells

Many genes and downstream effects are only expressed (and can be selected on) after birthing/hatching, or only in adult organisms. This can include whole organs, e.g. mammal fetuses don't use their lungs in the womb. A fetus could be deaf, blind, weak, slow, stupid - none of this would stop it from being carried to term. An individual could be terrible at hunting, socializing, mating, raising grandchildren - non... (read more)

When you get an allele from sex, there are two sources of variance. One is genes your (adult) partner has that are different from yours. The other is additional de novo mutations in your partner's gametes.

The former has already undergone strong selection, because it was part of one (and usually many) generations' worth of successfully reproducing organisms. This is much better than getting variance from random mutations, which are more often bad than good, and can be outright fatal.

Selecting through many generations of gametes, like (human) sperm do, isn't... (read more)

Neither of which are guaranteed to yield viable offspring, the latter won't carry all or maybe any of the benefits when mixed with your genes. Indeed, chances are most won't. On the other hand just getting random mutation on a constant set of genes seems like it has a much higher chance of still yielding a viable combination. How many generations of reproduction do you get in-absentia of recombination with other lineages between they are no longer compatible sexually? The answer varies based on the mutation rate, but it boils down to "surprisingly few". A lineage getting a new mutation often results in speciation. Also, see, most mammals mate with individuals on average 1 to 10 generations removed from them with few exceptions in rather "primitive" animals. Why? The vast majority of potential children in most mammals die because of structural issues that are "detected" very early on (i.e. at the stage when they are still a clump of cells). One reason why old animals become infertile even if germinal cells are still present. Could this mechanism not do any better? More importantly, I think you're missing the point when I say "in some species the vast majority of resources go towards mate selection". Get rid of that and allow every individual to reproduce and you'd get the ability to have many more offsprings to "test" stuff in. Some bacteria and archaea do little to not LGT, many viruses don't either. They have been here for potentially billions of years and will likely outlive. The same can be said for many plants that reproduce mainly via cloning. If you want to take a homo-centric POV and assume we are the end-all-be-all of biological life, fine, but even then you ought to keep in mind that sex might not be a requirement for that. Other strategies exist, and they don't involve sexual reproduction, the fact they did not evolve us may be chance -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- At any rate, I think your vie

I propose using computational resources as the "reference" good.

I don't understand the implications of this, can you please explain / refer me somewhere? How is the GDP measurement resulting from this choice going to be different from another choice like control of matter/energy? Why do we even need to make a choice, beyond the necessary assumption that there will still be a monetary economy (and therefore a measurable GDP)?

In the hypothetical future society you propose, most value comes from non-material goods.

That seems very likely, but it's not a... (read more)

6Vanessa Kosoy1y
The nominal GDP is given in units of currency, but the value of currency can change over time. Today's dollars are not the same as the dollars of 1900. When I wrote the previous comment, I thought that's handled using a consumer price index [], in which case the answer can depend on which goods you include in the basket. However, actually real GDP [] is defined using something called the GDP deflator [] which is apparently based on a variable "basket" consisting of those goods that are actually traded, in proportion to the total market value traded in each one. AFAIU, this means GDP growth can theoretically be completely divorced from actual value. For example, imagine there are two goods, A and B, s.t. during some periods A is fashionable and its price is double the price of B, whereas during other periods B is fashionable and its price is double the price of A. Assume also that every time a good becomes fashionable, the entire market switches to producing almost solely this good. Then, every time the fashion changes the GDP doubles. It thus continues to grow exponentially while the real changes are just circling periodically on the same place. (Let someone who understands economics correct me if I misunderstood something.) Given the above, we certainly cannot rule out indefinite exponential GDP growth. However, I think that the OP's argument that we live in a very unusual situation can be salvaged by using a different metric. For example, we can measure the entropy per unit of time produced by the sum total of human activity. I suspect that for the history so far, it tracks GDP growth relatively well (i.e. very slow growth for most of history, relatively rapid exponential growth in modern times). Since the observable universe has finite entropy (due to the holographic principle), there is a bound on how long this p

I think that most people would prefer facing a 10e-6 probability of death to paying 1000 USD.

The sum of 1000 USD comes from the average wealth of people today. Using (any) constant here encodes the assumption that GDP per capita (wealth times population) won't keep growing.

If we instead suppose a purely relative limit, e.g. that a person is willing to pay a 1e-6 part of their personal wealth to avoid a 1e6 chance of death, then we don't get a bound on total wealth.

2Vanessa Kosoy1y
Let U(W) denotes the utility of a person with wealth W, Umax the maximal utility of a person (i.e. limW→∞U(W)) and ¯W the median wealth of a modern person. My argument establishes that Umax≤U(¯W)+dUdW∣W=¯W⋅$1025 But, can we translate this to a bound on GDP? I'm not sure. Part of the problem is, how do we even compare GDPs in different time periods? To do this, we need to normalize the value of money. Standard ways of doing this in economics involve using "universally valuable" goods such as food. But, food would be worthless in a future society of brain emulations, for example. I propose using computational resources as the "reference" good. In the hypothetical future society you propose, most value comes from non-material goods. However, these non-material goods are produced by some computational process,. Therefore, buying computational resources should always be marginally profitable. On the other hand, the total amount of computational resources is bounded by physics. This seems like it should imply a bound on GDP.

you imagine that the rate at which new "things" are produced hits diminishing returns

The rate at which new atoms (or matter/energy/space more broadly) are added will hit diminishing returns, at the very least due to speed of light.

The rate at which new things are produced won't necessarily hit diminishing returns because we can keep cannibalizing old things to make better new things. Often, re-configurations of existing atoms produce value without consuming new resources except for the (much smaller) amount of resources used to rearrange them. If I inve... (read more)

2Vanessa Kosoy1y
I think it's more than an argument from incredulity. Let's try another angle. I think that most people would prefer facing a 10−6 probability of death to paying 1000 USD. I also think there's nothing so good that a typical person would accept a 1−10−6 probability of everyone dying to get it with the remaining probability of 10−6. Moreover, a typical person is "subulititarian" (i.e. considers n people dying at most n times as bad as themself dying). Hence, subjective value is bounded by 1000×106×106×1010=1025 USD. Combined with physics, this limits GPD growth on a relevant timeframe.

I agree, and want to place a slightly different emphasis. A "better" education system is a two-place function; what's better for a poor country is different from what's better for a rich Western one. And education in Western countries looked different back when they were industrializing and still poor by modern standards.

(Not that the West a century ago is necessarily a good template to copy. The point is that the education systems rich countries have today weren't necessarily a part of what made them rich in the first place.)

A lot (some think most) of Wes... (read more)

Great point, thanks!

Please see my other reply here. Yes, value is finite, but the number of possible states of the universe is enormously large, and we won't explore it in 8000 years. The order of magnitude is much bigger.

(Incidentally, our galaxy is ~ 100,000 light years across; so even expanding to cover it would take much longer than 8000 years, and that would be creating value the old-fashioned way by adding atoms, but it wouldn't support continued exponential growth. So "8000 years" and calculations based off the size of the galaxy shouldn't be mixed together. But the or... (read more)

In much the same way, estimates of value and calculations based on the number of permutations of atoms shouldn't be mixed together. There being a googleplex possible states in no way implies that any of them have a value over 3 (or any other number). It does not, by itself, imply that any particular state is better than any other. Let alone that any particular state should have value proportional to the total number of states possible. Restricting yourself to atoms within 8000 light years, instead of the galaxy, just compounds the problem as well, but you noted that yourself. The size of the galaxy wasn't actually a relevant number, just a (maybe) useful comparison. It's like when people say that chess has more possible board states than there are atoms in the observable universe times the number of seconds since the Big Bang. It's not that there's any specifically useful interaction between atoms and seconds and chess, it's just to recognize the scale of the problem.

in their expected lifespan

Or even in the expected lifetime of the universe.

perhaps we don’t need to explore all combinations of atoms to be sure that we’ve achieved the limit of value.

That's a good point, but how would we know? We would need to prove that a given configuration is of maximal (and tile-able) utility without evaluating the (exponentially bigger) number of configurations of bigger size. And we don't (and possibly can't, or shouldn't) have an exact (mathematical) definition of a Pan-Human Utility Function.

However, a proof isn't needed to... (read more)

Indeed. I think that a serious search for an answer to these questions is probably best left for the "Long Reflection."

In the limit you are correct: if a utility function assigns a value to every possible arrangement of atoms, then there is some maximum value, and you can't keep increasing value forever without adding atoms because you will hit the maximum at some point. An economy can be said to be "maximally efficient" when value can't be added by rearranging its existing atoms, and we must add atoms to produce more value.

However, physics provides very weak upper bounds on the possible value (to humans) of a physical system of given size, because the number of possible p... (read more)

That’s a nice conceptual refinement. It actually swings me in the other direction, making it seem plausible that humans might not have nearly enough time to find the optimum arrangement in their expected lifespan and that this might be a central question. One possibility is that there is a maximal value tile that is much smaller than “all available atoms” and can be duplicated indefinitely to maximize expected value. So perhaps we don’t need to explore all combinations of atoms to be sure that we’ve achieved the limit of value.

The OP's argument is general: it says essentially that (economic) value is bounded linearly by the number of atoms backing the economy. Regardless of how the atoms are translated to value. This is an impossibility argument. My rebuttal was also general, saying that value is not so bounded.

Any particular way of extracting value, like electronics, usually has much lower bounds in practice than 'linear in the amount of atoms used' (even ignoring different atomic elements). So yes, today's technology that depends on 'rare' earths is bounded by the accessible a... (read more)

The rate of value production per atom can be bounded by physics. But the amount of value ascribed to the thing being produced is only strictly bounded by the size of the number (representing the amount of value) that can be physically encoded, which is exponential in the number of atoms, and not linear.

To me, just ascribing more value to things without anything material about the situation changing sounds like inflation, not real growth.
2Vanessa Kosoy1y
So, you imagine that the rate at which new "things" are produced hits diminishing returns, but every new generation of things is more valuable than the previous generation s.t. exponential growth is maintained. But, I think this value growth has to hit a ceiling pretty soon anyway, because things can only be that much valuable. Arguably, nothing is so valuable that you can be Pascal-mugged into paying 1000 USD for someone promising to produce it by magic. Hence, the maximally valuable thing is worth no more than 1000 USD divided by the tiny probability that a Pascal mugger is telling the truth. I admit that I don't know how to quantify this, but it does point at a limit to such growth.
The natural numbers that can be physically encoded are not bounded by an exponent of the number of bits if you don't have to be able to encode all smaller numbers as well in the same number of bits. If you define a number, you've encoded it, and it's possible to define very large numbers indeed [] .

By "proportionately more" I meant more than the previous economic-best use of the same material input, which the new invention displaced (modulo increasing supply). For example, the amount of value derived by giving everyone (every home? every soldier? every car?) a radio is much greater than any other value the same amount of copper, zinc etc. could have been used for before the invention of radio. We found a new way to get more value from the same material inputs.

For material outputs (radio sets, telegraph wire, computers), of course material inputs are ... (read more)

Thank you for clarifying the definition you're using for "proportionately more". Two points come to mind: * The material waste products of the electronics ecosystem between 1990s and now has shifted from mass/toxic atoms (cathode-ray tubes/lead, mercury) to less mass but more rare(er) earth elements such as indium and cobalt. 1 The problem of "this can't go on" may not be limited by total of all atoms but by total of electronically important elements that can be mined "sustainably" on earth. All atoms are not equal. As you're probably aware, "rare earth" is not always about the total amount of atoms of said element in the earth but of how the element is dispersed (or not) and, thus, how "easily" it can be mined. ("easily" includes physical as well as political impediments2 [doi 10.1145/3303847])The electronic waste stream efforts are very likely to shift from dealing with mass/toxicity to harvesting the rare earth elements from electronic waste. I can imagine the trade-off graph between all of the costs of more pit mines in more politically diverse areas for harvesting virgin rare earth elements vs harvesting electronic waste. I can't imagine either being anywhere close to all of the atoms on earth much less the entire universe. Orders of magnitude seem likely but I could be persuaded otherwise. * The idea of "modern technology (=value)" seems to have a presumption of that value being only positive. When I see that kind of blanket statement about technology I am reminded of the 2012 cover of The MIT Technology Review with Buzz Aldrin saying "You promised me Mars colonies. Instead, I got Facebook". No argument from me that use of atom-light applications are valued in the stock market. No argument from me regarding the excitement/"value" of block-chain and it's use of more electricity than many countries. Humans used to be pretty thrilled about tulips, too. Maybe the point of downsides of modern

GDP growth is measured in money, a measure of value. Value does not have to be backed by a proportional amount of matter (or energy, space or time) because we can value things as much as we like - more than some constant times utilon per gram second.

Suppose I invent an algorithm that solves a hard problem and sell it as a service. The amount people will be willing to pay for it - and the amount the economy grows - is determined by how much people want it and how much money there is, but nobody cares how many new atoms I used to implement it. If I displace ... (read more)

I still think the argument holds in this case, because even computer software isn't atom-less. It needs to be stored, or run, or something somewhere. I don't doubt that you could drastically reduce the number of atoms required for many products today. For example, you could in future get a chip in your brain that makes typing without a keyboard possible. That chip is smaller than a keyboard, so represents lots of atoms saved. You could go further, and have that chip be an entire futuristic computer suite, by reading and writing your brain inputs and outputs directly it could replace the keyboard, mouse, monitors, speakers, and entire desktop, plus some extra stuff, like also acting as a VR Headset, or video game console, or whatever. Lets say you manage to squeeze all that into a single atom. Cool. That's not enough. For this growth to go on for those ~8000 years, you'd need to have that single-atom brain chip be as valuable as everything on Earth today. Along with every other atom in the galaxy. I think at some point, unless the hottest thing in the economy becomes editing humans to value specific atoms arbitrary amounts (which sounds bad, even if it would work), you can't get infinite value out of things. I'm not even sure human minds have the capability of valuing things infinitely. I think even with today's economy, you'd start to hit some asymptotes (i.e. if one person had everything in the world, I'm not sure what they'd do with it all. I'm also not sure they'd actually value it any more than if they just had 90% of everything, except maybe the value on saying "I have it all", which wouldn't be represented in our future economy) And still, the path to value per atom has to come from somewhere, and in general it's going to be making stuff more useful, or smaller, but there's only so useful a single atom can be, and there's only so small a useful thing can be. (I imagine some math on the number of ways you could arrange a set of particles, multiplied by the n
There's some discussion of this in a followup post [].
5Vanessa Kosoy1y
Value is not obviously bounded by atoms, yes. However, GDP measures production of value. And, the entities producing value are made of atoms. Today these entities are humans. In the future, they might be something much more efficient. However, it seems at least plausible that their efficiency (i.e. rate of value production per atom) is somehow bounded by physics.
As a concrete example, let's imagine that sending an email is equivalent to sending a letter. Let's ignore the infrastructure required to send emails (computers, satellites, etc) vs. letters (mail trucks, post offices, etc), and assume they're roughly equal to each other. Then the invention of email eliminated the vast majority of letters, and the atoms they would have been made from. Couple this with the fact that emails are more durable, searchable, instantaneous, free, legible, compatible with mixed media, and occupy only a miniscule amount of physical real estate in the silicon of the computer, and we can see that emails not only reduce the amount of atoms needed to transmit a letter, but also produce a lot more value. In theory, we might spend the next several thousand years not only finding ways to pack more value into fewer atoms, but also enhancing our ability to derive value from the same good or service. Perhaps in 10,000 years, checking my email will be a genuine pleasure!
"Many recent developments that produced a lot of value, like radio, computing, and the Internet, didn't do it by using proportionally more atoms." There are vacuum electronic tube production facilities (late 18th century onward), many billion dollar semiconductor factories (late 1970s onward), and piles and piles of electronic waste that say this isn't true.

Sorry, who is GBS?

Also: if Orwell thought vegeterians expected to gain 5 years of life, that would be an immense effect well worth some social disruption. And boo Orwell for mocking them merely for being different and not for any substance of the way they were different. It's not as if people eating different food intrudes on others (or even makes them notice, most of the time), unlike e.g. nudists, or social-reforming feminists.

George Bernard Shaw. 1856-1950.

I strongly agree that the methodology should have presented up front. lsusr's response is illuminative and gives invaluable context.

But my first reaction to your comment was to note the aggressive tone and what feels like borderline name-calling. This made me want to downvote and ignore it at first, before I thought for a minute and realized that yes, on the object level this is a very important point. It made it difficult for me to engage with it.

So I'd like to ask you what exactly you meant (because it's easy to mistake tone on the internet) and why. Cal... (read more)

In addition to this there is the horrible—the really disquieting—prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words 'Socialism' and 'Communism' draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, 'Nature Cure' quack, pacifist and feminist in England.

It's interesting to see how this aged. 85 years later, sex-maniacs and quacks are still considered 'cranks'; pacifism and nudists are not well tolerated by most societies, whereas sandal... (read more)

I guess that Orwell's objection was something like "these people seem incapable to tone down their middle-class signalling". They ostentatiously care about things that working-class people do not have capacity to care about. They utterly fail at empathy with the workers... and yet presume to speak in their name. The worker is trying not to starve, and to have enough strength for daily 16-hour work at the factory. Vegetarianism is a luxury he can't afford. Will healthier diet really make him live longer? His main risk factors are falling of the scaffolding, mutilation by an engine, suffocation in a mine, et cetera; how does eating a f-ing tofu protect against that? For a working-class woman, the lack of right to vote is also not very high on her list of priorities, I suppose. Therefore, talking about these topics too much is like saying that actual working-class people are not invited to the debate.
GBS got a good lifespan out of his vegetarian diet.

The link to "Israeli data" is wrong; it goes to the tweet by @politicalmath showing the Houston graph you inlined later.

What is the most rational way to break ice?

  1. Does the cost to get a drug approved depend on how novel or irreplaceable it might be? Did it cost the same amount to approve Silenor for insomnia as it would cost to approve a really novel drug much better at combating insomnia than any existing one?

    If the FDA imposes equal costs on any new drug, then it's not "imposing [costs] on a company trying to [...] parasitize the healthcare system". It's neutrally imposing costs on all companies developing drugs. And this probably does a lot more harm on net (fewer drugs marketed) then it does good (punishes so

... (read more)

Did it cost the same amount to approve Silenor for insomnia as it would cost to approve a really novel drug much better at combating insomnia than any existing one?

The FDA wants proof that drugs have a statistical significant effect. The stronger the effect of your drug happens to be the less people you need in your phase III trials.

Bullshit is what comes out of the mouth of someone who values persuasion over truth. [...] The people with a need to obscure the truth are those with a political or social agenda.

Almost all humans, in almost all contexts, value persuasion over truth and have a social agenda. Condemning all human behavior that is not truth-seeking is condemning almost all human behavior. This is a strong (normative? prescriptive? judgmental?) claim that should be motivated, but you seem to take it for given.

Persuasion is a natural and desirable behavior in a social, coop... (read more)

If someone says there is "no evidence" of something then it is because they are trying to pass off "nobody looked for Bigfoot and nobody found him" as "explorers looked for Bigfoot and nobody found him".

A "no evidence" argument doesn't have to be made in bad faith. It's claiming that we've looked into the people who said they saw Bigfoot (as opposed to looking for Bigfoot itself), and concluded those claims have no good evidence behind them. And so, without evidence, we should rule out Bigfoot, because the prior for Bigfoot is very low. We would need po... (read more)

Technically, this would only be true if claims for A were perfectly independent of the truth of A. Your argument, as written, seems to imply radical skepticism, at least for some topics. And you seem to be falling into the trap of thinking of things as being members of a simple binary set of mutually exclusive categories of 'evidence' or 'not evidence'. The generally held view of the users of this site tho is that it's better to expand the size of the set of 'evidence' categories, e.g. standard probabilities. (I don't think it's particularly necessary to use real numbers (versus your implied '0' or '1' binary values), but it sure is useful to use at least more than two categories.) It's not true that there's literally no evidence of Bigfoot, it's that the evidence is very weak. As another commenter pointed out, a big part of this 'disagreement' is really people 'talking past each other' and a big part of that is the 'evidence' means different things to different people.

We're talking past one another, trying to solve different problems. I'm a software engineer by profession and I understand how public-key cryptography works. I also assumed you were not a software engineer because your comment didn't make sense for the problem as I understand it.

The QR code contains a cryptographically signed attestion that "DanArmak" is vaccinated. Not "whoever displays this code is vaccinated".

That works fine, and is the system used in Israel and proposed in some EU countries. But it's not what I understand Zvi to be arguing for. Zvi... (read more)

To clarify - the most humane, least risky use case that would satisfy these desiderata would be have a modular system where we 1. Verify off-site that DanArmak is vaccinated (or has allergies, or a heart condition, or is immunocompromised) 2. Verify on-site that you're DanArmak 3. Give the user the option of sharing information with the state or local health department so they can contact you or your physician about virus exposure (not just covid), food poisoning, whatever. This could be widely adapted to a variety of situations, depending on how rigorous one wants to be about verifying someone's ID. If we DO stick with apps, the best approach might be to give everyone a QR code (including those who haven't gotten vaccinated or tested). Separately, provide multiple options for verifying the codes (strict verification of ID, census of how many people are vaccinated once capacity is exceeded, etc) Looks like some people may already be moving in this direction. [] Again, easier to implement if the software is open source.
Right, so whatever direction we go with this, it's really important that the application be open source, as Jeffrey Zients has suggested, so that businesses can add on security features that identify the person.

we have proof by example

What's the example you're thinking of? I'm sorry if you mentioned it before and I missed it.

We need something harder to fake than a Fake ID, where the QR code doesn't reveal who you are, so you can't be tracked beyond the existing ability to track cell phones.

If I understand correctly, you don't want the QR code to prove that "John Doe, ID #123456789, is vaccinated" and then have the verifier ask to see a separate, pre-existing ID that shows you're John Doe. Which is how the actual and proposed vaccination passports in Israel... (read more)

Both things are true. An attacker can find poorly protected keys that are easier to steal (although key protection may weakly correlate with key value). And a defender can invest to make their own key much harder to steal.

the vaccination doesn't expire, so the code doesn't need to

If a person receives a static, permanent QR code, then some QRs will leak (or be deliberately leaked) and will be used en masse. And some QRs will be given out to friends and family.

With permanent codes, the application presenting the QR can't prove it's the genuine application, so people could just as easily show an image.

That also lets everyone share QR codes easily (i.e. without being tech savvy or investing effort) - just use your phone's screenshot function while the real app is open. And w... (read more)

...who cares? The QR code contains a cryptographically signed attestion that "DanArmak" is vaccinated. Not "whoever displays this code is vaccinated". You only need a program for decoding it, and verifying the signature against the signing keys from states. Photocopying them would be only slightly more useful than photocopying somebody else's drivers license. Sure, if they've got the same name or look just like you, they can use it, but if I photocopy my drivers license and put it online, there's not a lot of people who could reasonably pass as me. You absolutely do not need anything to display it, you could print it out on paper. The genuine-ness comes from the cryptographic signature. It's extremely trustworthy, but unfortunately the mechanism of trust isn't clear until you understand public key cryptography. The whole point of the suggestion was a scheme which was not traceable. That means not fetching people's pictures. I understand how QR codes work just fine, but being on a piece of paper in somebody's wallet, we've got to turn the ECC up to max, and I've also got an estimate for the size of the rest of the data that needs to go in there in order to make it useful. The mechanism doesn't need to be perfect, it'll just mostly work, and this one also perfectly preserves privacy. (It can also be tweaked and tuned in a variety of ways which I'm not going to take the effort to explain to a non-software engineer.)

A QR code can be placed upon a piece of paper, and those without a phone can carry the piece of paper, the same way we can carry the vaccination card now except with a less trivial duplication/fraud problem. It’s not a meaningful objection.

You seem to assume a user would print out a QR code from e.g. a website at home and then carry it around. It would need to be valid for at least a day, and to be re-usable for multiple verifications. This could make it harder to build a secure system with the same guarantees as you might get from very short lived toke... (read more)

the QR code can just have a cryptographically signed attestation from a government agency that the person has been vaccinated. that can be verified by an app which does not need to communicate with a central authority. if the authority released the corresponding public keys, open source apps could do the job. and the vaccination doesn't expire, so the code doesn't need to. (but perhaps you could include some vaccine lot number info if you're super excited about such things, so apps could know about bad batches? that's probably not worth the effort to discuss.) the hard part is figuring out who to attest has been vaccinated, and what information you can cram into the attestation which will satisfy people viewing the QR code. (an entire photo wouldn't fit.)

There are plenty of privacy experts out there that can design a version of the system where you can’t be tracked. The system can see if you’re vaccinated, but it can’t tell who ‘you’ are while doing so, except to verify that the claim is legitimate.

I'm not a privacy expert. It's not obvious to me how to design such a system. Can someone explain or link to a proposal? The 'obvious' way would be to give people tokens when vaccinating them, but it's too late for that.

Also, do you mean "can't be tracked by the system itself, including the app you've install... (read more)

Interestingly in New York State it appears aren't allowed to store anything about the verification per GBL 899-aa and 899-bb. That's about as close to a "no warranty" statement as it gets.
I feel like there's some sort of yet-to-be-articulated "impossibility theorem" here. Some sort of mash-up of the project management trilemma and Shannon's theorem
I think this assumes that the system needs to be more robust than the current system, by a lot, plus also gain privacy. What I'm saying is that (1) yes we could do both if we cared enough, in theory, because we have proof by example but also (2) we don't need that level of robustness. We need something harder to fake than a Fake ID, where the QR code doesn't reveal who you are, so you can't be tracked beyond the existing ability to track cell phones. There's a trade-off of security vs. privacy for sure, but right now the existing systems are lousy at best on both.

That's true. But a well-protected key is much, much harder to steal than it is to fake an ID. (We were not discussing stealing IDs.)

It's a different way of looking at things - Anyone* who steals ANY KEY can use it. So there's benefit to attackers, just going after badly protected keys. The approach looks like an inversion of the way you're looking at it. (That doesn't mean I'm always a fan of using multiple factors, or verifying new machines - but I understand the point in terms of security, and sometimes wish there were more (opt in) options, say periodic ones. For example, 'machines expire after X time or Y logins'.) *with the skills.
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