As a Washed Up Former Data Scientist and Machine Learning Researcher What Direction Should I Go In Now?

I have been able to land interviews at a rate of about 8/65 or 12% of the positions I apply to.  My main assumption is that the timing of COVID-19 is bad, and I'm also only looking at positions in my geographical area of Toronto.  It's also possible that I was overconfident early on and didn't prep enough for the interviews I got, which often involved general coding challenges that depended on data structures and algorithms that I hadn't studied since undergrad, as well as ML fundamentals for things like PCA that I hadn't touched in a long time as my research work has been deep learning focused.

As for corporate politics and how to handle them rationally, I'm not entirely sure I can be much help, as to be honest, I'm not entirely clear on what happened to cause the situation that I got myself into.

Perhaps the thing I could suggest is to be tactful and avoid giving people an excuse or opportunity to side line you, and never assume that you can work with anyone without issue, because toxic or hostile managers especially can make you miserable and prevent you from being successful, and noticing such people in advance and avoiding having to depend on their performance appraisals is probably a good idea.

Most people in business seem focused on performing and getting results, and some of them are wary of others who could overtake them, and so you need to balance showing your value with not seeming threatening to their position.  I was in an awkward position that my immediate manager and I didn't get along, but the director of the department who originally hired me protected me from too much reprisal.  However, he needed me to perform better to be able to advocate for me effectively, and it was difficult to do so under the person I was directly under.

Such situations can arise and get quite complicated.  I wish I could say you can use the tools of rationality to reason with anyone and convince them to work cooperatively on team goals, but I found that some people are less amenible than others.  Furthermore, if someone makes an attack against you in corporate politics, chances are you won't see it coming, using a subordinate to strike indirectly, and those involved will straight up ignore your communications or give you the runaround in such a way that you won't be sure who is actually responsible for what.  Many meetings are behind closed doors, and there is a clear limit to the information you will have relative to your superiors, which can make it difficult to defend yourself even if you know something is going on.

I guess another thing I can add is that probably a large part of why I was able to avoid being fired was that I had substantial documentation, including a detailed research journal, and a spreadsheet of my working hours to back me up.  When trying to be a rational and honest worker in the corporate world, a paper trail is protection and a good way to ensure that the compliance department and HR will be on your side when it counts.

Also, beware that if you let certain types of people get away with one seemingly small thing, they will see that as weakness and that you are exploitable.  Know your boundaries and the regulations of the company.  Bullies are not just a schoolyard problem, but in the office, they're much smarter and know how to get away with things.  Sometimes these people are also good enough at their jobs that you will not be able to do anything to them because the company needs what they provide.  That is life.  Pick your battles and don't allow unfair situations and difficulties to make you lose sleep and perform worse.  Do the best you can to do your job well, such that you are beyond rapproach if possible.  Be aware that things can spiral.  If you lose sleep over something that happened, and this makes you late for work the next day, you've given your detractors ammunition.

That's all I can think of right now.

Edit:  As an example of how clever other people can be at office politics, I was once put in a kind of double bind or trap situation that was similar to a fork in Chess.  Basically, I was told by a manager not to push some code into a repository, ostensibly because we'd just given privileges to someone who had been hired by a different department and who we suspected might steal the code for that department (there's a horse race culture at the corporation).  Here's the thing, if I did what he told me to, this repo would be empty and I'd have no independent evidence that my current project had made any progress, leaving me vulnerable to him accusing me of not doing work, or he could deny that he told me not to put in the code, making it look like I was concealing stuff from the company.  If I refused to go along and instead pushed the code, I would be insubordinate and disloyal to my department and his managers, who he claimed had told him to tell me what to do.

Any Christians Here?

Actually, apparently I forgot about the proper term: Utilitronium

Any Christians Here?

I would urge you to go learn about QM more. I'm not going to assume what you do/don't know, but from what I've learned about QM there is no argument for or against any god.

Strictly speaking it's not something that is explicitly stated, but I like to think that the implication flows from a logical consideration of what MWI actually entails. Obviously MWI is just one of many possible alternatives in QM as well, and the Copenhagen Interpretation obviously doesn't suggest anything.

This also has to due with the distance between the moon and the earth and the earth and the sun. Either or both could be different sizes, and you'd still get a full eclipse if they were at different distances. Although the first test of general relativity was done in 1919, it was found later that the test done was bad, and later results from better replications actually provided good enough evidence. This is discussed in Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time.

The point is that they are a particular ratio that makes them ideal for these conditions, when they could have easily been otherwise, and that these are exceptionally convenient coincidences for humanity.

There are far more stars than habitable worlds. If you're going to be consistent with assigning probabilities, then by looking at the probability of a habitable planet orbiting a star, you should conclude that it is unlikely a creator set up the universe to make it easy or even possible to hop planets.

The stars also make it possible for us to use telescopes to identify which planets are in the habitable zone. It remains much more convenient than if all star systems were obscured by a cloud of dust, which I can easily imagine being the norm in some alternate universe.

Right, the sizes of the moon and sun are arbitrary. We could easily live on a planet with no moon, and have found other ways to test General Relativity. No appeal to any form of the Anthropic Principle is needed. And again with the assertion about habitable planets: the anthropic principle (weak) would only imply that to see other inhabitable planets, there must be an inhabitable planet from which someone is observing.

Again, the point is that these are very notable coincidences that would be more likely to occur in a universe with some kind of advanced ordering.

So you didn't provide any evidence for any god; you just committed a logical fallacy of the argument from ignorance.

When I call this evidence, I am using it in the probabilistic sense, that the probability of the evidence given the hypothesis is higher than the probability of the evidence by itself. Even though these things could be coincidences, they are more likely to occur in a controlled universe meant for habitation by sentient beings. In that sense I consider this evidence.

I don't know why you bring up the argument from ignorance. I haven't proclaimed that this evidence conclusively proves anything. Evidence is not proof.

The way I view the universe, everything you state is still valid. I see the universe as a period of asymmetry, where complexity is allowed to clump together, but it clumps in regular ways defined by rules we can discover and interpret.

Why though? Why isn't the universe simply chaos without order? Why is it consistent such that the spacetime metric is meaningful? The structure and order of reality itself strikes me as peculiar given all the possible configurations that one can imagine. Why don't things simply burst into and out of existence? Why do cause and effect dominate reality as they do? Why does the universe have a beginning and such uneven complexity rather than just existing forever as a uniform Bose-Einstein condensate of near zero state, low entropy particles?

To me, the mark of a true rationalist is an understanding of the nature of truth. And the truth is that the truth is uncertain. I don't pretend like the interesting coincidences are proof of God. To be intellectually honest, I don't know that there is a God. I don't know that the universe around me isn't just a simulation I'm being fed either though. Ultimately we have to trust our senses and our reasoning, and accept tentatively some beliefs as more likely than others, and act accordingly. The mark of a good rationalist is a keen awareness of their own limited degree of awareness of the truth. It is a kind of humility that leads to an open mind and a willingness to consider all possibilities, weighed according to the probability of the evidence associated with them.

Any Christians Here?

Interesting, what is that?

The idea of theistic evolution is simply that evolution is the method by which God created life. It basically says, yes, the scientific evidence for natural selection and genetic mutation is there and overwhelming, and accepts these as valid, while at the same time positing that God can still exist as the cause that set the universe and evolution in motion through putting in place the Laws of Nature. It requires not taking the six days thing in the Bible literally, but rather metaphorically as being six eons of time, or some such. The fact that sea creatures precede land creatures precede humans suggests that the general order described in scripture is consistent with established science as well.

Are you familiar with the writings of Frank J. Tipler?

I have heard of Tipler and his writings, though I have yet to actually read his books.

That would be computronium-based I suppose.

Positronium in this case means "Positive Computronium" yes.

Looking for machine learning and computer science collaborators

I might be able to collaborate. I have a masters in computer science and did a thesis on neural networks and object recognition, before spending some time at a startup as a data scientist doing mostly natural language related machine learning stuff, and then getting a job as a research scientist at a larger company to do similar applied research work.

I also have two published conference papers under my belt, though they were in pretty obscure conferences admittedly.

As a plus, I've also read most of the sequences and am familiar with the Less Wrong culture, and have spent a fair bit of time thinking about the Friendly/Unfriendly AI problem. I even came up with an attempt at a thought experiment to convince an AI to be friendly.

Alas, I am based near Toronto, Ontario, Canada, so distance might be an issue.

Open thread, June. 12 - June. 18, 2017

Well, as far as I can tell, the latest progress in the field has come mostly through throwing deep learning techniques like bidirectional LSTMs at the problem and letting the algorithms figure everything out. This obviously is not particularly conducive to advancing the theory of NLP much.

Any Christians Here?

I consider myself both a Christian and a rationalist, and I have read much of the sequences and mostly agree with them, albeit I somewhat disagree with the metaethics sequence and have been working on a lengthy rebuttal to it for some time. I never got around to completing it though, as I felt I needed to be especially rigorous and simply did not have the time and energy to make it sufficiently so, but the gist is that Eliezer's notion of fairness is actually much closer to what real morality is, which is a form of normative truth. In terms of moral philosophy I adhere to a form of Eudaimonic Utilitarianism, and see this as being consistent with the central principles of Christianity. Metaethically, I am a moral universalist.

Aside from that, I don't consider Christianity and rationality to be opposed, but I will emphasize that I am a very much a liberal Christian, one who is a theistic evolutionist and believes that the Bible needs to be interpreted contextually and with broad strokes, emphasizing overarching themes rather than individual cherry-picked verses. Furthermore, I tend to see no contradiction in identifying the post-Singularity Omega as being what will eventually become God, and actually find support from scriptures that call God, "the Alpha and Omega", and "I AM WHO I WILL BE" (the proper Hebrew translation of the Tetragrammaton or "Yahweh").

I also tend to rely fairly heavily on the idea that we as rational humans should be humble about our actual understanding of the universe, and that God, if such a being exists, would have perfect information and therefore be a much better judge of what is good or evil than us. I am willing to take a leap of faith to try to connect with such a being, and respect that the universe might very well be constructed in such a way as the maximize the long run good. It probably goes without saying that I also reject the Orthogonality Thesis, specifically for the special case of perfect intelligence. A perfect intelligence with perfect information would naturally see the correct morality and be motivated by the normativity of such truths to act in accordance with them.

This justifies the notion of perhaps a very basic theism. The reason why I accept the central precepts of Christianity has more to do with the teachings of Jesus being very consistent with my understanding of Eudaimonic Utilitarianism, as well as the higher order justice that I believe is preserved by Jesus' sacrifice. In short, God is ultimately responsible for everything, including sin, so sacrificing an incarnation of God (Jesus) to redeem all sentient beings is both merciful and just.

Also, I consider heaven to be central to God being a benevolent utilitarian "Goodness Maximizer". Heaven is in all likelihood some kind of complex simulation or positronium-based future utopia, and ensuring that nearly all sentient beings are (with the help of time travel) mind-uploaded to it in some form or state is very likely to bring about Eudaimonia optimization. Thus, the degree of suffering that occurs in this life on Earth, is in all likelihood justifiable as long as it leads to the eventual creation of eternal life in heaven, because eternal life in heaven = infinite happiness.

As to the likelihood of a God actually existing, I posit that with Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, a benevolent God is more likely than not going to exist somewhere. And such a God would be powerful and benevolent enough to be able to and also want to expand to all universes across the multiverse in order to establish as heaven maximally inclusively as possible, if not also create the multiverse via time travel.

As to evidence for the existence of a God... were you aware that the ratio of sizes between the Sun and the Moon just happen to be exactly right for there to be total solar eclipses? And that this peculiar coincidence was pivotal to allowing Einstein's Theory of Relativity to be proven in 1919? How about the odd fact that the universe seems to be filled with giant burning beacons called stars, that simultaneously provide billions of years of light energy, and basically flag the locations of potentially habitable worlds for future colonization? These may seem like trivial coincidences to you, but I see them as rather too convenient to be random developments, given the space of all possible universe configurations. They are not essential to sapient life, and so they do not meet the criteria for the Anthropic Principle either.

Anyways, this is getting way beyond the original scope or point of this post, which was just to point out that Christian rationalist Lesswrongers do exist more or less. I'm pretty sure I'm well in the minority though.

OpenAI makes humanity less safe

I don't really know enough about business and charity structures and organizations to answer that quite yet. I'm also not really sure where else would be a productive place to discuss these ideas. And I doubt I or anyone else reading this has the real resources to attempt to build a safe AI research lab from scratch that could actually compete with the major organizations like Google, Facebook, or OpenAI, which all have millions to billions of dollars at their disposal, so this is kind of an idle discussion. I'm actually working for a larger tech company now than the startup from before, so for the time being I'll be kinda busy with that.

OpenAI makes humanity less safe

That is a hard question to answer, because I'm not a foreign policy expert. I'm a bit biased towards Canada because I live there and we already have a strong A.I. research community in Montreal and around Toronto, but I'll admit Canada as a middle power in North America is fairly beholden to American interests as well. Alternatively, some reasonably peaceful, stable, and prosperous democratic country like say, Sweden, Japan, or Australia might make a lot of sense.

It may even make some sense to have the headquarters be more a figurehead, and have the company operate as a federated decentralized organization with functionally independent but cooperating branches in various countries. I'd probably avoid establishing such branches in authoritarian states like China or Iran, mostly because such states would have a much easier time arbitrarily taking over control of the branches on a whim, so I'd probably stick to fairly neutral or pacifist democracies that have a good history of respecting the rule of law, both local and international, and which are relatively safe from invasion or undue influence by the great powers of U.S., Russia, and China.

Though maybe an argument can be made to intentionally offset the U.S. monopoly by explicitly setting up shop in another great power like China, but that runs the risks I mentioned earlier.

And I mean, if you could somehow acquire a private ungoverned island in the Pacific or an offshore platform, or an orbital space station or base on the moon or mars, that would be cool too, but I highly doubt that's logistically an option for the foreseeable future, not to mention it could attract some hostility from the existing world powers.

Net Utility and Planetary Biocide

I've had arguments before with negative-leaning Utilitarians and the best argument I've come up with goes like this...

Proper Utility Maximization needs to take into account not only the immediate, currently existing happiness and suffering of the present slice of time, but also the net utility of all sentient beings throughout all of spacetime. Assuming that the Eternal Block Universe Theory of Physics is true, then past and future sentient beings do in fact exist, and therefore matter equally.

Now the important thing to stress here is then that what matters is not the current Net Utility today but overall Net Utility throughout Eternity. Two basic assumptions can be made about the trends through spacetime. First, that compounding population growth means that most sentient beings exist in the future. Second, that melioristic progress means that the conscious experience is, all other things being equal, more positive in the future than in the past, because of the compounding effects of technology, and sentient beings deciding to build and create better systems, structures, and societies that outlive the individuals themselves.

Sentient agents are not passive, but actively seek positive conscious experiences and try to create circumstances that will perpetuate such things. Thus, as the power of sentient beings to influence the state of the universe increases, so should the ratio of positive to negative. Other things, such as the psychological negativity bias, remain stable throughout history, but compounding factors instead trend upwards at usually an exponential rate.

Thus, assuming these trends hold, we can expect that the vast majority of conscious experiences will be positive, and the overall universe will be net positive in terms of utility. Does that suck for us who live close to the beginning of civilization? Kinda yes. But from a Utilitarian perspective, it can be argued that our suffering is for the Greatest Good, because we are the seeds, the foundation from which so much will have its beginnings.

Now, this can be countered that we do not know that the future really exists, and that humanity and its legacy might well be snuffed out sooner rather than later. In fact, the fact that we are born here now, can be seen as statistical evidence for this, because if on average you are most likely to be born at the height of human existence, then this period of time is likely to be around the maximum point before the decline.

However, we cannot be sure about this. Also, if Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is true, then even if for most worlds humanity ceases to exist around this time, there still exists a non-trivial percentage of worlds where humanity survives into the far distant future, establishing a legacy among the stars and creates relative utopia through the compound effects aforementioned. For the sake of these possible worlds, and their extraordinarily high expected utility, I would recommend trying to keep life and humanity alive.

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