Dave Orr

Google AI PM; Foundation board member


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Which rationalists faced significant side-effects from COVID-19 vaccination?

Surely a poll would be better -- easier for people to answer, less risky of bias.

Am I anti-social if I get vaccinated now?

It's pro-social to get vaccinated now, for the following reasons:


  1. Vaccines that are already delivered to your country are not going to get shipped elsewhere. They have a shelf life and (especially the MRNA ones) don't always travel that well. Vaccine supply to the third world will be shipped from factories, not reclaimed from vaccinations sites now.
  2. Switzerland and other western countries will be more willing to release supply/not buy more when their population is protected. As long as they feel like they have a clear need then they will oppose sending vaccines elsewhere. 

Those two factors make it clear that getting a shot now will more likely decrease (marginally) the time to diversion of significant supply to other places that need it more.

What to optimize for in life?

"Premature optimization is the root of all evil." - Tony Hoare by way of Donald Knuth.

See also: https://m.xkcd.com/1691/

Are PS5 scalpers actually bad?

If you buy from a retailer, you are paying in time as well as money. This is a good deal for people who have relatively more time than money. If you buy from a scalper, you are substituting money for the time component, which is good for people who value their time more highly.

Therefore scalpers are shifting supply from people who have more time to people who have more money. This is likely moving supply from middle class people to rich(er) people.

If you're in the set of people with more time than money, which is most people, I can see being upset. It arguably substantially increases time to PS5 because you weren't previously competing with someone like me who doesn't have time to spare to track inventory and call around, but has plenty of money. It's removing consumers from a pool that they weren't in yet.

Averting suffering with sentience throttlers (proposal)

I wonder how it would be received if we applied the same reasoning to humans and animals.

Humans might (and in fact do) undergo a lot of suffering. If we could identify people who are likely to suffer high amounts of suffering, then should we put in sentience throttling so that they don't feel it? Seems very Brave New World.

How about with animals? If we could somehow breed chickens that are identical to current ones except that they don't feel pain or suffering, would that make factory farming ethical? Here the answer might be yes, though I'm not sure the animal rights crowd would agree.

The EMH is False - Specific Strong Evidence

I think some markets are basically efficient and very difficult to beat. The public stock market is one. I'm not convinced by the AI example basically due to priors -- we've seen many many people claim to be able to beat the public markets without special information, with evidence that seems much more convincing than this, and they are on average wrong. So I don't think at least this argument overcomes my priors.

However less liquid markets are for sure beatable. The prediction markets around the election are one. Crypto is another -- I personally have done well not just investing in crypto but by co-founding a hedge fund that has actively traded crypto for 3 years, many trades per day, making a trading profit (earning alpha) on 1081/1093 days. (And the losing days were all very small, each well below a day's average profits.)

I also sit on an investment committee for an endowment and see what returns can look like in private markets where it's possible to have a high informational advantage and turn that into outsized returns.

So to me, the EMH is mostly true for highly liquid highly accessible markets. But for illiquid, less accessible, lower information markets, there is money to be made for people willing to put in the effort. 

Whether it's worth the opportunity cost is also another question, it's not like it's hard to make money lots of ways if you are motivated and smart. Crypto is a fun hobby for me, like poker used to be, and I like to make money from my hobbies. Not everyone wants to spend their free time looking for EV in weird places.

What is the low hanging fruit of things we could be doing to improve society?

I'm sure there are some hard cases wrt free trade, but we could move a long way towards much more free trade without worrying too much about the corner cases (i.e. allow tariffs on those cases).

What is the low hanging fruit of things we could be doing to improve society?

Here's a list of things that I think would not be controversial among economists and relevant experts but nonetheless seem very unlikely to happen any time soon:

  • Much more free trade -- reduce friction, trade barriers, and tariffs. Consider payments to smooth out pain to short term losers
  • Greatly reduced zoning and housing regulations. Housing stock is artificially expensive (at least in most places in the US, especially the Bay Area) due to excessive local regulations and zoning.

    Also no more rent control. Do you want to make sure there's not enough places for people poor people to live? Because rent control is how you make sure there's not enough places for poor people to live
  • Carbon tax. It's the most efficient way to internalize the global warming costs. It'll never be adopted because the price sensitivity to gasoline is way higher than it is to e.g. electricity, so one blanket number will piss off consumers too much
  • Greatly reduce drug approval costs. Accepting approvals from similar agencies overseas is one approach. Greatly expanded "right to try" rules might be another. A more free market approach might be best.

    Also make almost all (actually all?) illegal drugs legal. The enforcement costs and social costs are ridiculously high, far higher than the benefits from the war on drugs
  • Payments for organ transplants. Supply is much lower than demand, and there's no price signal or reason for people to create more supply, so lots of people will die from a lack of a kidney while everyone else has a spare
  • Charter schools/voucher schools. This might be more controversial among "relevant experts" depending on what group you think that is, but the arguments against are very poor and the arguments for seem much stronger to me
  • Get rid of ~all tax deductions. The mortgage interest deduction is regressive and distortionary. The employer-provided health care deduction is distortionary and locks people into jobs. I personally benefit a ton from the charitable deduction but it's also regressive
  • Get rid of the corporate income tax. We want corporations to make money and invest it. Tax income to people, not to companies
  • Greatly reduce occupational licensing. Some of those may make some sense, but most are just thinly veiled job protection for the existing guild members
  • Shorten copyrights (35 years or life of the creator, whichever is longer?), shorten patents, no software or business method patents


I don't think there's a single explanation for why none of those policies seems likely to happen, though at least there's substantial movement on the drug legalization front recently.

Are there good negotiation classes?

I took a class based on Getting More and it was interesting and useful. This was offered by the company so I can't comment on general classes. There's evidently an online course based on the material, no idea if it's more useful than just reading the book.

I like GM more than e.g. the Carnegie book because it's just usefully framed as "understand what the other person wants and try to get it for them" which is like 90% of being a good negotiator, assuming you know what you want as well.

Calculating Kelly

It's too cumbersome and only addresses part of the issue. Kelly more or less assumes that you make a bet, it gets resolved, now you can make the next bet. But in poker, with multiple streets, you have to think about a sequence of bets based on some distribution of opponent actions and new information.

Also with Kelly you don't usually have to think about how the size of your bet influences your likelihood to win, but in poker the amount that you bluff both changes the probability of the bluff being successful (people call less when you bet more) but also the amount you lose if you're wrong. Or if you value bet (meaning you want to get called) then if you bet more they call less but you win more when they call. Again, vanilla Kelly doesn't really work.

I imagine it could be extended, but instead people have built more specialized frameworks for thinking about it that combine game theory with various stats/probability tools like Kelly.

The Math of Poker, written by a couple of friends of mine, might be a fun read if you're interested. It probably won't help you to become a better poker player, but the math is good fun.

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